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, January 31, 2012

Scotty Bowers: Full Service

My Adventures in Hollywood & the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars

It all began with middle aged actor Walter Pidgeon. In 1946 he stopped by a Richfield gas station on Hollywood Boulevard and picked up handsome 23-year-old Scotty Bowers, an ex-Marine pump attendant, by offering a $20 tip. Pidgeon drove Bowers to a private home where they joined Jacques Potts. Pidgeon invited Bowers to use the swimming pool: “It's hot Scotty. Hop in for a swim, I'll join you in a minute ... No need for a suit. There's no one else here.” Scotty relates that Pidgeon’s preference was to give Bowers oral sex while masturbating. There were many repeats of this three-way arrangement of three bisexual men, for which Bowers always earned a $20 bill.

For years Bowers ran a sexual referral service from this gas station, engaging in a Hollywood underground sex trade. If not participating in sexual relations with the customers himself, he arranged for his money-starved ex-Marine buddies to pick up some extra cash. Soon enough he expanded his base to provide companionship and sex for people of every sexual orientation and interest. Although not all of his clients were household names, Bowers had sexual relations with Cary Grant, Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Rock Hudson  and Vivien Leigh. Sir Laurence Olivier usually asked Scotty to send over a girl and a boy at the same time.


For years there have been references to a prostitution ring run from a Hollywood gas station, specifically in books by/about agent Henry Wilson and Katherine Hepburn. Hollywood blogs also mention him. Scotty Bowers, now 88 years old, has come forward by writing a tell-all book about his prostitution ring that catered to the rich and famous in the Los Angeles area. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood And the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars opens the doors of the closeted underworld of old Hollywood. This book was reviewed in last Friday’s New York Times, which mentioned a publication date of February 14, so I was surprised to learn that it is already available in e-book formats.

Bowers had three-way sex with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and then provided them with fresh supplies of mostly homosexual partners during their stays in Los Angeles. We learn that Cole Porter was notoriously promiscuous and loved giving head to young Marines. Tyrone Power, also an ex-Marine, was bisexual but preferred male sexual partners. When he was picked up by Orry-Kelly, Bowers did not know that he was one of Hollywood’s most famous costume designers and a former roommate of Cary Grant.

Katherine Hepburn, whom he encountered at Sunday afternoon socials at the home of George Cukor, asked Bowers for young dark-haired girls who wore little make-up. Hepburn did not like repeats, but one of the approximate 150 girls Bowers provided for Hepburn, named Barbara, became a friend and received a $100,000 check from Hepburn’s estate after the star’s death. Vincent Price wanted boys, and Coral Browne, his third wife, wanted girls.

Bowers attributes the success of his operation to the gas station’s being a safer hangout than gay bars, which were often raided. A 2-bedroom trailer parked behind the service station and a small motel across the street provided a haven for satisfying more immediate needs.

Bowers (at right, circa 1944) says that he is now speaking out, because all of his former customers are now deceased, and the truth can’t hurt them anymore. The last thing he would ever do was damage the career of his customers, most of whom became trusted friends. Because of his advanced age, he wanted to get the book published while he was able. Dominick Dunne considered writing about Scotty’s story, but didn’t get around to it. Dunne’s son, actor and director Griffin Dunne, however, offered a quote for the book jacket: “A jaw-dropping firsthand account of closeted life in Hollywood during the ’40s and ’50s.”

“Sometimes police would come around, sure. But I think I never got caught partly because I kept everything in my head. There was no little black book. Whatever folks wanted, I had it. I could make all their fantasies come true. No matter how outrageous or off-beat people's tastes, I was the one who knew how to get them exactly what they were after. Straight, gay, or bi; male or female; young or old – I had something for everyone. Frankly, I knew Hollywood like no one else knew it.”

Eventually Bowers moved his operations from the gas station to a French restaurant on North La Cienega Blvd., where he worked as a bartender. Phyllis Diller worked there as a standup comedienne, and Julie London sang there. After he left the restaurant Bowers, who supported himself as a handyman and bartender for private parties, continued his eyebrow-raising and largely hidden sideline until the onset of AIDS in the 1980s, when it became too unsafe a game to play anymore.

Matt Tyrnauer, a Vanity Fair magazine writer, is making a documentary about Scotty Bowers, who now resides in the Hollywood Hills with his wife of 27 years. Gore Vidal, a former client, recommends the book on his web site: gorevidalnow.com. The book has been libel-checked, and Alan Schwartz, an entertainment lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, says that some readers might be in tears, especially those who idolize their favorite stars from the past.* The book will be published by Grove Press on February 14 and is written in collaboration with Lionel Friedberg, an award-winning producer of documentaries.

*Cary Grant's daughter says she is "amused" by the notion that her father had homosexual relations. Well, she must be smiling all the time, because she has plenty to be "amused" about. Cary Grant's bisexuality was one of Hollywood's most poorly kept secrets.

Monday, January 30, 2012

John Stillman a.k.a. Jack Wrangler

When the big-band era singer Margaret Whiting died at the age of 86 last January, I remember reading a few salacious details in her obituary. Whiting certainly raised eyebrows in 1994 when she married John Stillman, better known as gay porn star Jack Wrangler. At the time of their nuptials he was 47 years old and Whiting 69, yet they forged an unconventional 15-year marriage that lasted until Stillman’s death from emphysema in 2009.

Stillman (1946-2009) was a complex character, an out homosexual who starred in both straight and gay porn, inspiring a feature length documentary film, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon (2008). His career was about more than porn, however. He was also a TV, stage and movie actor, writer, and theatrical producer and director.

Stillman’s father was a Hollywood TV and film producer, and his mother was a dancer in Busby Berkeley musicals. Growing up in Beverly Hills, his acting career began at age nine on a syndicated television religious family show, The Faith of Our Children. Stillman later wrote that he knew he was gay by the age of ten.

After earning a degree in theater from Northwestern University, he found work in LA and NYC as a stage actor, model and dancer. He easily accommodated the on-stage nudity required by some of his early stage roles and eventually settled in NYC, where he also worked as a go-go dancer and bartender. When Stillman made an appearance in a 1970 male strip show, he used the name "Jack Wrangler," a pseudonym inspired by the label on his Wrangler-brand work shirt. He was approached by a gay pornographic film studio and starred in Eyes of a Stranger (1970), one of the first hard-core gay porn films released commercially in the U.S. Stillman never looked back. He appeared in 47 porn films over a sixteen year period, before retiring from the industry at age 40.

Amazingly he maintained a legitimate acting career while making porn films, appearing in stage roles from 1979 through the mid 1980s. He published his autobiography, The Jack Wrangler Story, or What's a Nice Boy Like You Doing?, in 1984. The next year Stillman wrote the book for the musical, I Love You, Jimmy Valentine, starring Margaret Whiting, whom he had met in a nightclub in 1976. Wrangler later recalled: “I was with my manager when I looked over at Margaret, who was surrounded by five guys in a booth. There she was with the hair, the furs and the big gestures. I thought, 'Boy, now that's New York! That's glamour!' I had to meet her.” Within in weeks of first meeting, they began a romance and became the very definition of The Odd Couple.


Urged by Whiting to give up his porn career and live erotic shows, Stillman eventually turned his attention to her cabaret career, plunging headlong into a dizzying number of projects. He became a board member of the Johnny Mercer Foundation and worked to promote Mercer's music, writing and producing a 1985 cabaret show for Whiting which featured Mercer's music. In 1996 Stillman co-wrote and produced Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: The Jazz Concert, inspired by the Mercer music used in the film. He helped conceive the 1997 Broadway revue Dream, which starred Whiting singing Mercer songs. He developed a ballet based on Mercer's 1946 musical, St. Louis Woman, which was performed by the Dance Theater of Harlem in 2003. Stillman also wrote and produced cabaret shows for singer Carol Woods from 1984 to 2001. He wrote, directed, or produced a number of other plays, musicals and revues, including The Valentine Touch, The First Lady and Other Stories of Our Times, and Irina Abroad! In his spare time he penned a column on health and fitness, "Wrangler's Weights and Measures", for the gay-lifestyle magazine Au Contraire.

Many years ago I remember being bored by a cabaret performance by Whiting at the Fairfax Hotel in Washington DC, in which she seemed to be just going through the motions to earn a paycheck. Now I know that all the spark in her life was at home, not on the cabaret stage.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga

I first learned of Balenciaga (1895-1972) from a pamphlet at the San Sebastian (Spain) tourist office. In a list of famous people who had made San Sebastian their home, he was in the second position, right behind the Queen of Spain. My female traveling companion, speaking in reverent tones, informing me that he is regarded as one of the greatest couturiers of the twentieth century.

Counted among his clients were the de Rothschilds, Bunny Mellon, Helena Rubinstein, the Duchess of Windsor, Countess Mona Bismark, Doris Duke, Marella Agnelli and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie upset John F. Kennedy for buying Balenciaga's ultra expensive creations while he was President, because he feared that the American public might think the purchases too lavish; her haute couture bills were discreetly paid by her father-in-law, Joseph Kennedy. While Dior dressed the rich, Balenciaga dressed the very rich. During the 1950s, it was said that a woman “graduated” from Dior to Balenciaga.

Balenciaga, who had quit school to go to work for a local tailor at age 13, opened his first shop in San Sebastián, Spain, at age 19, and by the age of 24 he had his own couture house, which later expanded to branches in Madrid and Barcelona. All three were called Eisa, after his seamstress mother. He learned every aspect of the couture business. While apprenticed to the San Sebastián tailor, he learned the skill of cutting, an art few dress designers possess.

At seventeen he went to Biarritz, across the border, to learn the French language and their clothes-making techniques. By the age of eighteen, he was learning the women’s wear trade back in San Sebastián, in a luxury shop, Louvre, where he became adept at fitting ladies and finding gowns for their personal requirements. His clients loved him and followed him when he opened his own fashion house in the Basque capital at age 24. Among his clients was the Spanish Queen Mother, Maria Cristina, for whom San Sebastián’s great luxury hotel is named. His business was run with the help of his sister, brother and other relatives, and was very much a family firm, though on a substantial scale; 250 people worked in the Madrid house alone, plus an additional 100 or so in Barcelona.

The Spanish royal family and the aristocracy wore his designs, but when the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores in 1931, he fled first to London, then to Paris in 1936, eventually opening a couture house on Avenue George V in 1937. His success was immediate. Customers risked their safety to travel to Europe during World War II to see Balenciaga's designs.

Below: A Balenciaga design from 1951.


It was in Paris that he met the lover of his life, Vladzio Zawrorowski d'Attainville, who was also his business associate. At the time he partnered with Cristóbal, Vladzio was a Franco-Russian milliner. Balenciaga was devastated when he died in 1948, to the point that he considered closing down his business. While Balenciaga had affairs with other men after Vladzio's death, he remained an intensely private man, rarely socializing.

Several designers who worked for Balenciaga would go on to open their own successful couture houses, notably Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy. Balenciaga’s influence on these men cannot be overstated.

His greatest period of innovation and influence was from just after WW II until he closed his couture house in 1968. His “sack dress” created a sensation in 1957 and was even parodied on an episode of “I Love Lucy”. Unlike other couture houses, Balenciaga never produced a ready-to-wear line: "I will not prostitute my talent." Tapping the deep roots of his Spanish heritage, Balenciaga found inspiration in flamenco and Velázquez paintings, clerical vestments and bullfighters’ boleros. Later, in designs that re-envisioned the female silhouette with gestures that flouted the traditional waistline, he created his unfitted middy blouse and tunic dress, the barrel-line jacket and balloon dress. In 1960 Balenciaga received the Légion d’honneur for services to the French fashion industry.



When Balenciaga died in his native Spain in 1972, Women’s Wear Daily declared, “The King is Dead”. He died a very rich man, with houses and apartments in Paris, at La Reynerie near Orléans, in Madrid, in Barcelona, and in Iguelda in his native Basque country. Although his couture house remained dormant from 1968 until 1986, in 1992, for the summer Olympic Games, the House of Balenciaga designed the French team's clothes to give them a more sophisticated look.




The Balenciaga name is best known to young people today as the label in a sought-after handbag with punkish hardware. Balenciaga is now owned by the Gucci Group.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maurice Evans

Actor Maurice Evans (1901-1989) was born in England (Dorchester, Dorset), but became an American citizen in 1941. U.S. television audiences (of a certain age) remember him as Samantha's father, Maurice, on the 1960s sitcom Bewitched*. Maurice often embellished his entrances and exits with strained Shakespearean verse**. He also played "The Puzzler" on Batman. Two films from the late 1960s made him a movie star, as well – he played the evolved orangutan Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes and Rosemary's friend Hutch in the psychological thriller Rosemary's Baby.

**For good reason. Most TV and movie fans, however, remain unaware of his extraordinary Shakespearean pedigree. Before he left England he joined the Old Vic Company in 1934, playing Hamlet, Richard II and Iago. His first appearance on Broadway was in Romeo and Juliet opposite Katharine Cornell in 1936, but he made his biggest impact in Shakespeare's Richard II, a hit production of the 1937 theater season, which led to his playing Hamlet (1938), the first time the complete, uncut version appeared on the New York stage. Margaret Webster directed him as Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I (1939), Macbeth (1941), and Malvolio in Twelfth Night (1942) opposite the memorable Viola of Helen Hayes. By this time he had become an American citizen.

During World War II he was in charge of an Army Entertainment Section in the Central Pacific and appeared in a 'G.I. version' of Hamlet, in which he shortened and edited the play to make Prince Hamlet more decisive and appealing to the troops, an interpretation so popular that he took it to Broadway in 1945. U.S. WW II veteran Bruce Guerin, in a YouTube interview, reminisces about his commanding officer, Captain Maurice Evans, whom he affectionately described as “gay as pink ink,” although a man without effeminate mannerisms, allowing him to blend in and be accepted by his fellow soldiers. An interesting aside is that bisexual actor (then a U.S. Navy enlistee) Farley Grainger was assigned to a WW II Hawaii-based military unit commanded by Maurice Evans.

Evans also appeared in several plays by George Bernard Shaw, notably as John Tanner in Man and Superman and as King Magnus in The Apple Cart. He went on to produce successful Broadway productions in which he did not appear, notably Teahouse of the August Moon.

Evans lived in a converted stable (circa 1869) at 50 W. 10th St. in Greenwich Village. In the early 1960s he sold it to playwright Edward Albee, and it subsequently became the home of Jerry Herman, before he relocated to California. In the early years of the 20th century, Mark Twain and Hart Crane had lived on the same block.

Evans appeared in more American television productions of Shakespeare than any other actor. He also brought his Shakespeare productions to Broadway many times, playing Hamlet in 283 performances, a Broadway record that is not likely to be broken.Upon retirement Evans returned to the country of his birth and died of cancer in East Sussex, England, at age 87.

All his life Evans had a predilection for young male flesh. An oft-repeated anecdote is that his friend, business manager and former lover David "Taffy" Barlow made Maurice's last days all the more comfortable by hiring teenaged boys to strip off and lie on the bed next to him; this quite shocked some of his deathbed visitors (Source: Scott Michaels).

*Bewitched had one of the gayest casts in the history of television. There was Dick Sargent (Darrin Stephens), George Tobias (Abner Kravitz) and Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur). Not to mention (rumored) bisexual Agnes Moorehead (Endora) and lesbian Diane Murphy (Tabitha). I feel a post about the Bewitched cast coming on. Stay tuned.

Bewitched clip featuring Maurice Evans:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pianist Van Cliburn

UPDATE:
Van Cliburn died Wednesday morning, February 27, 2013, at his Fort Worth home that he shared with his partner Thomas L. Smith, who survives him. Cliburn succumbed to a long bout with cancer.

Van Cliburn, born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. in 1934, is an American pianist who at the age of 23 won the first ever International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the height of the Cold War.

He was a child prodigy, of course, racking up an impressive list of accomplishments, including a debut with the Houston Symphony at age 13 and a Carnegie Hall debut at age 20. But it was his achievement three years later that made him a household name all over the world. The Tchaikovsky Piano Competition was a bit of staged propaganda designed to confirm Soviet cultural superiority during the Cold War, following on the heels of Russia’s technological coup with the Sputnik space launch in 1957. However, things did not go as planned. Cliburn's performances of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff piano concertos resulted in an 8-minute standing ovation, establishing him as the clear audience favorite. His electrifying technique, focus, brilliant octave playing, liberal applications of rubato and youthful charm made for an historic performance. Pianist Sviatoslav Richter pronounced Cliburn a genius; Khachaturian declared him "better than Rachmaninoff"; Emil Gilels kissed him in reverence. The Soviet puppet judges were compelled to ask Premier Khrushchev for permission to award first prize to an American. Cliburn was handed the gold medal by none other than famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovitch.



After his unanimous win, the American media went nuts. “Van” Cliburn (even to this day, few know his given name is Harvey) was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time in history that such an honor was bestowed on a classical musician. He appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with the headline: "The Texan Who Conquered Russia" (inside, the feature stated, "He may be Horowitz, Liberace and Presley rolled into one.")  His subsequent recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 became the first classical album to sell a million copies and became the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade.

Cliburn made the rounds of talk shows and demonstrated his patriotism in every concert performance by leading off with “The Star Spangled Banner.” He traveled extensively, playing frequently for heads of state. Tall, with dashing good looks, huge hands and talent to spare, he became the first classical artist to receive a $10,000 fee for a concert. His career was red hot. He played at the New York World's Fair to a full house, while Stravinsky conducted a concert before a half empty auditorium.

However, just twenty years later, at the age of 43, when most pianists are at the peak of their careers, he withdrew from concertizing and recording. Most critics agree that he never realized his potential. Although he became the artistic advisor for the eponymous Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1962, thus providing an enduring legacy, his recitals lost their freshness as his overwrought style of playing fell out of fashion. His performances became inconsistent, his tone took on a strident edge, he let his repertoire stagnate and his interpretations became trivialized by affectations. He also became a difficult prima donna, often showing up late or cancelling at the last minute. Worse, he became adversely affected by stage fright and was intimidated by his audience’s high expectations.

For decades thereafter he mostly stayed at home in Fort Worth with his mother until her death at age 97, playing and composing on the 15 pianos throughout the mansion. He labored over a piano sonata he never performed, and he made increasingly rare returns to the concert hall. He became obsessed with collecting antique silver. But things got even weirder. In 1996 Thomas Zaremba filed a palimony suit against Cliburn, claiming that because of "an oral and/or implied partnership agreement," he was entitled to a share in Cliburn's assets. Zaremba said that he had assisted in the management of Cliburn's career and finances and performed domestic duties, including helping Cliburn care for his aged mother. Zaremba further alleged a dangerous sexual element to their relationship, claiming that Cliburn may have exposed him to AIDS during their 17-year affair, which ended in 1994 when Zaremba moved to Michigan to work as a mortician. I’m not making this up.

Cliburn had little comment on the charges, remaining closed mouthed during interviews. Although cultural insiders had long been aware of his homosexuality, the press had never linked him romantically to any man, even though he and Zaremba appeared together at public functions in Fort Worth. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed because of lack of a written agreement, which Texas law required.

Nevertheless, Cliburn went on to receive the Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003 by President George W. Bush, and in 2004 was given the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest civilian awards of the two countries.

Now in his late 70s, he participates in a limited number of concerts. Cliburn still resides in Fort Worth, where he shares a home with his partner Thomas L. Smith. Cliburn remains a staunch Baptist and regular church goer who does not drink or smoke. For much of the American public, their image of Cliburn is frozen in time, conjuring up an exuberant youth stunning the world with his 1958 victory in Moscow.

On a personal note, I think Cliburn’s recording of the Samuel Barber piano sonata is an unsung landmark performance, especially given the fact that Cliburn was not celebrated for this sort of repertoire. As an aside, it should not be lost on us that both Tchaikovsky and Barber were gay men. Also, silver medallist Yeol eum Son (South Korea) from the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has become a favorite; her engaging performances are much to my taste.

Fortunately the historic medal-winning live performance of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto #1 from 1958 (Moscow) is available in its entirety on YouTube:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Heldentenor Lauritz Melchior

Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was born in Denmark, where he studied voice at the Copenhagen Royal Opera School. His professional singing career began as a baritone in 1913, but by 1918 he had become a Heldentenor (heroic tenor) – a penetrating, powerful type of tenor voice ideally suited to the operas of Richard Wagner, which require stamina and the ability to soar above a large orchestra for hours and hours (and hours). His “second” debut was in 1918 in the title tenor role of Tannhäuser, also at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen. However, Melchior’s career was cemented by his hundreds of Wagner performances at the Metropolitan Opera (NYC) between 1926 and 1950.

On a trip to England in 1920 he met wealthy author Hugh Walpole, who became his patron. Walpole, whose pet name for Lauritz was "David," was a popular novelist and enthusiastic Wagnerite. He provided Melchior with financial aid, enabling him to audition successfully in 1923 for Siegfried Wagner (Richard Wagner’s son and Franz Liszt’s grandson) and his mother Cosima, Richard Wagner’s widow. They were planning the reopening of the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, which had been silenced for ten years by World War I. Cosima herself coached Melchior in staging and acting, providing Lauritz with a direct link to the composer’s intentions. He made his Bayreuth début in 1924 as Parsifal and continued to take leading roles at Bayreuth. The legendary 1930 Tristan und Isolde performances at Bayreuth under Arturo Toscanini led to Toscanini’s high praise, dubbing him "Tristanissimo."

Melchior and Walpole became involved in a six year relationship that lasted until Walpole met Harold Cheevers, a married former policeman, in 1926 (Cheevers and Walpole remained partners until Walpole’s death in 1941). Walpole's diary entries spell out jealousy over those who vied for Melchior's attentions. When the relationship with Walpole waned, Melchior took up with a merchant seaman, Emil Opffer, a man he shared with his friend, the American poet Hart Crane. Melchoir married twice, but his homosexual liaisons were well documented.

Although Melchior began singing Wagnerian roles at the Metropolitan opera in 1926, his breakthrough came when he performed there in Tristan und Isolde in 1929. Over a 24-year period Melchior sang 519 performances of Wagnerian roles at the Met, and most critics still regard him as the quintessence of the Heldentenor voice. At six-feet four-inches and 225 pounds (on a lean day), he earned the sobriquet, “Mammoth Melchior, the Great Dane of the Met.”

Melchior performed frequently at other venues, including Covent Garden (London), the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), and with the Chicago and San Francisco opera companies. His voice was enduring, showing little evidence of deterioration when he sang the first act of Die Walküre on Danish radio on the occasion of his 70th birthday. One critic, Washington DC based Paul Hume, wrote of Melchior, "not the world's greatest Wagner tenor – the only one!"

While on a world tour in the late 1940s, Melchior visited his native Denmark as a guest of King Frederic, who was an amateur conductor with his own personal concert hall in his palace.

Shortly before World War II, he immigrated to the United States with his German-born wife, settling in California, where he appeared in five movie musicals between 1944 and 1952, mostly in somewhat cheesy roles. He was a frequent performer on radio and television, even singing the national anthem at the opening of ball games. In 1947 his hand and footprints were immortalized in cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Although not well remembered by young audiences today, he was the most famous Wagnerian tenor of his era. Historic recordings testify to his greatness as a Heldentenor.

Melchior died in Santa Monica, California, in 1973. Although he had been an American citizen since 1947, his body was returned to Copenhagen to be buried in the city of his birth.

Those who are fans of Wagner’s operas need no introduction to Melchior’s voice, but this film clip is from the film Luxury Liner (1948), in which he sings “Come Back to Sorrento” to Jane Powell. Xavier Cugat (!) is conducting.



Dispute of operatic proportions:
Melchior’s son, Ib Jørgen Melchior (b. 1917), a decorated WW II hero, author and film producer, screenwriter and director, wrote Lauritz Melchior: The Golden Years of Bayreuth, a biography of his father. Ib Melchior, living today in Los Angeles at age 94, has also worked tirelessly to broker the return of his father’s hunting estate in Chossewitz, Germany (five miles from the border with Poland), which was confiscated in 1943 by East Germany and as yet never returned.


Lauritz, who willed Seeschloss Chossewitz solely to his son Ib, had spent idyllic summers there beginning in 1932. The family had rented the property from 1932, eventually purchasing the house and 300 acres in 1938. The lakefront estate was recently offered for sale for €800,000, with no mention of its previous owner. The East German government had used the estate as a convalescent home (Erholungsheim) for national railroad workers, and it later served as an inn run by Norbert Krause, who leased the dilapidated property from the German government. He displayed Lauritz Melchior memorabilia and hung photos and paintings of the tenor in theatrical costumes, promoting the inn as a place where guests could spend a night in the great performer's old bedroom. The manor house was subsequently renovated in 2007 (shown below), prior to being offered for sale. Unfortunately, I have been unable to learn of its recent fate. I can't get the notion out of my mind that it would make a wonderful museum to Melchior, if the right organization/people would step forward. No law against wishful thinking.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Louis Aragon

Born in Paris in 1897, bisexual poet, essayist and novelist Louis Aragon was a nineteenth century man who served France in two world wars, yet lived long enough to ride in gay pride parades in a pink convertible during the 1970s. After the death of his wife in 1970, he lived openly as a homosexual with poet Michel Larivière, who became his lover and companion, thus affirming Aragon’s bisexuality. He died in Paris in 1982, at age 85, with writer Jean Ristat at his side. Ristat is Louis Aragon's literary executor and heir.

Aragon was raised by his unmarried mother and maternal grandmother, who told him they were his sister and foster mother. Aragon's father, senator Louis Andrieux, was decades older than his mother and married to someone else. Only at age 19, as he was about to leave as a soldier in World War I (see photo below of Aragon in his uniform), was he told the truth, and the fact that Andrieux would never recognize his son would later influence Aragon's writing.


Involved with Dadaism from 1919 to 1924, Aragon became a founding member of Surrealism in 1924, writing with André Breton and Philippe Soupault. During that same period he joined the French Communist Party, and from 1933 he wrote for the party's newspaper, L'Humanité. He would remain a party member for the rest of his life, although he remained critical of the USSR, particularly after Khrushchev faulted Joseph Stalin's "personality cult" in the 20th Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture (1956). As a noted communist intellectual he continued to support dissidents and was a vocal supporter of the Budapest insurrection of 1956. He condemned the regime of Tito and Soviet authoritarianism.

In 1939 Aragon married Russian author Elsa Triolet. Together they collaborated in the left-wing French media, going underground for most of the Nazi occupation. The year he was married Aragon was mobilized and awarded the military medal “Croix de guerre” for his bravery. After the May 1940 defeat, the couple joined the Resistance, and Aragon became the leading poet of the French Resistance movement.

During the World War II Aragon wrote for the underground Les Éditions de Minuit, working with Elsa to set up a National Front of Writers in the South. Much of his writing during this period related to the war and the heroism he witnessed. Jean Ristat has stated that from about this time Elsa knew about Aragon’s penchant for young men, but that Aragon did not flaunt his homosexual interests publicly until after her death.

Throughout his life Aragon continued to be politically involved. He produced a remarkable series of experimental fiction, poems and essays; most are available in English translation. In 1991 Aragon was honored with a commemorate postage stamp, as one of the five “French Poets of the 20th Century” series.

Aragon circa 1925, photographed by Man Ray

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ric Weiland, Microsoft Philanthropist

Richard Weiland (1953-2006) was one of the first five employees of Microsoft Corporation. A computer software pioneer and philanthropist extraordinaire, his life came to a tragic end by suicide at age 53. Two years after his death his estate announced that he had made the largest single bequest ever to the LGBT community: $65 million. Ric, as he was known, suffered from clinical depression and died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was survived by his partner, Mike Schaefer*.

High school classmates Bill Gates and Weiland were involved with the Computer Center Corporation and worked together to create a payroll program in COBOL and writing scheduling software for a school. After he graduated from Stanford University, Weiland was hired by Bill Gates in 1975, the same year Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque. As one of only five employees, Weiland was a lead programmer and developer for the company's BASIC and COBOL language systems. After a stint at Harvard Business School, he became project leader for Microsoft Works. Weiland was known as a brilliant programmer and a key contributor to the company's success, but in 1988 he left Microsoft to dedicate most of his time to philanthropy.

Ric was a donor to the Pride Foundation, the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, United Way of King County, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Stanford University, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, AMFAR, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Audubon Society. He was influential as an active member of the Northwest gay community. A member of the Pride Foundation's board of directors from 1997 to 2001, he helped win the fight to get General Electric to include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy.

Weiland also was a quiet but key second round investor in gay online media company PlanetOut Corp. It is estimated that during his lifetime he contributed $30 million to over 50 organizations. A quiet philanthropist, he was known not to seek publicity for his generosity.

In 2008, Pride Foundation announced that Ric Weiland’s estate had bequeathed $65 million to support gay rights and HIV/AIDS organisations – the largest single bequest ever for the LGBT community. Weiland established a fund at the Pride Foundation that provides $46 million to 10 personally selected national LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations and $19 million directly to Pride Foundation for scholarships and grants supporting the Northwest's LGBT community. The $65 million is among bequests totaling about $160 million – the bulk of Weiland's estate – to various charities and Stanford University.

Weiland and Bill Gates in 1976:


*A quote from Mike Schaefer:

My life partner, Ric Weiland, and I talked a lot about our options for giving away our wealth in our lifetimes. After all, why wait until you’re old and senile – or dead – to give to the causes you believe in? It made sense to have a thoughtful giving plan and the commitment to follow through on it while we had energy and intelligence. But Ric died tragically a good 20+ years sooner than planned: in 2006, at age 53. As one of the founders of Microsoft, Ric had a lot more financial resources than I. But we were clear from the beginning of our relationship that philanthropy was a core value that brought us together. We didn’t need or want a $2 million home. After Ric’s death, our family (which was small, just the two of us and 4 nieces and nephews) is just fine knowing the money has gone to support good causes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ralph M. Perry

Perry (b. 1952) was an elementary school teacher whose skill in teaching first and second graders  to read earned him the Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Award in 1995. The next year he received the Milken Educator Award, while he was a reading teacher at the JFK Elementary School in Middletown, RI. These national education awards are considered the “Oscars” of teaching and come with an unrestricted $25,000 cash award.

But the reason I’m featuring Ralph Perry on this blog is because he revealed his homosexuality in 1995, when the Rhode Island legislature was about to vote on a bill to ban job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Newspapers picked up the story and quoted Perry:

“My success and reputation in my field are not enough. Despite my recognition as a good teacher, I can legally be fired tomorrow for testifying here tonight. This is not right. We in the gay and lesbian community of Rhode Island hear many, many stories of discrimination, especially in employment and housing, but most people won't come forward for fear of receiving publicity and being identified.”

His courage and stature as an educator helped assure passage of the legislation in April, 1995. The House of Representatives vote was 57-41, and the billed breezed through the Senate; ultimately Republican Governor Lincoln C. Almond signed it, making Rhode Island the ninth state to extend civil rights to citizens on the basis of sexual orientation.

"Teaching a child how to read opens the door for all future possibilities and is indeed my proudest accomplishment," said Ralph Perry, who was responsible for spearheading the implementation of a system-wide First Grade Reading Assessment program designed to provide necessary information for future instructional reform. A frequent leader of professional development workshops, Perry helped other teachers improve their understanding of multi-cultural education, technology implementation and Internet use. In an effort to involve working parents in their children's reading progress, he developed a highly successful take-home reading program.

Perry retired five years ago after a distinguished 28-year teaching career.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Prince Edmond de Polignac

Prince Edmond (1834-1901) was a homosexual  aristocrat, noted composer and a descendant of an illustrious French family. His grandmother was a close friend of Queen Marie-Antoinette. His father was the Minister of State under French King Charles X and author of the July Ordinances of 1830, which revoked the Constitution, suspended freedom of the press, and gave the king extraordinary powers, including absolute power in the name of "insuring the safety of the state" (sort of like ex-president Bush and Homeland Security). Publication of that document resulted in the July Revolution that ended the reign of the Bourbons. The king and his family went into exile, and Jules de Polignac was condemned to life imprisonment and loss of civil rights. Despite the harsh sentence, visitation was allowed, and Edmond was born while his father was in prison.

In 1836 King Louis-Philippe granted the release of imprisoned cabinet members, including Edmond’s father, with the proviso that he leave Paris permanently. The family moved to Bavaria, near Landau. Edmond received a classical education there, including dancing and horseback riding. Early on Edmond demonstrated an inclination toward the creative arts, writing plays and comedies for the children's theatre built by his father. His elder brothers mocked him for his frailness and lack of athleticism.

In 1845 the family returned to France, and two years later Edmond’s father died. Edmond by now had determined that he would be a composer, though this dismayed his mother, who felt music was an acceptable hobby for an aristocrat, but not an acceptable profession. Depression and family pressure to marry ensued.

In 1861, at age 27, Edmond and his brother were founding members of the Cercle de l'Union Artistique, formed to promote performances of great music in venues other than theatres. Besides the aristocrats, the club included Gounod, Berlioz, Auber, and Catulle Mendès. Edmond began writing for the amateur male choral groups (orphéons) which had begun to proliferate in France, and he won prizes in composition.

In 1875 a new friend entered his life, Comte Robert de Montesquiou, a handsome and intelligent man twenty-one years his junior. They shared many interests, and most historians say they enjoyed a sexual relationship. Through Montesquiou's circle, Polignac made the acquaintance of Gabriel Fauré and became a member of the Société Nationale de Musique, where his compositions were performed alongside those of Chausson, Debussy, and Fauré.

By 1892, Polignac, 57, inept with money and impoverished through poor investments, was destitute. The solution suggested by his friends was marriage to a woman of means. Polignac discussed the matter with Count Montesquiou, and out of these conversations the name of Winnaretta Singer (with Edmond at right), wealthy daughter of sewing machine tycoon Isaac Singer, was suggested. With her marriage to Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard annulled, she considered the possibility. Singer's social status would be improved by marrying another prince, and would cover for her lesbian sexual orientation. The couple was married in 1893, with the blessings of Pope Leo XIII. Their relationship grew into one based on profound love, mutual respect, understanding, and artistic friendship, expressed especially through their love of music. Note: Before I started this blog, I did not know the definition of a "lavender" marriage (between a homosexual male and a lesbian), but this one seems to be the most fortunate example I can think of.

The marriage freed Edmond to compose, and Singer was happy to promote his compositions. She became close with Edmond's niece, who was also a composer and musician, and Singer and Edmond hosted a music salon in her renovated atelier. With a vaulted two story ceiling and a Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ and two Steinways, the room became a haven for Paris's musical and artistic avant-garde. On Tuesdays, her organ evenings were especially sought after and featured the great performers of the day, including Widor, Gigout, Fauré, Vierne, and Guilmant. Marcel Proust was introduced to the Polignacs and  he was a regular in the Polignac salon, often attending in the company of his current love interest, composer Reynaldo Hahn, a mutual friend of the Polignacs.

Edmond and Winnaretta spent time touring Europe, acquiring a palazzo in Venice, and promoting Edmond's compositions. Edmond died of a febrile illness in 1901 at age 58.

After Polignac's death, the Princesse de Polignac became an important musical patron in her own right. She established a prize in music in her husband's name, and commissioned major works from Igor Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc (Concerto for Two-Pianos and the Organ Concerto) and Germaine Tailleferre (Piano Concerto). Until 1939, the Polignac salon was the foremost gathering-place for the artistic elite in Paris and Venice, including Jean Cocteau, Monet, Diaghilev and Colette.


Fondation Singer-Polignac, 43 avenue Georges Mandel, Paris

After Edmond's death in 1901, Winnaretta hired architect Henri Grandpierre in 1904 to renovate her mansion (above), located a few doors down from where Maria Callas lived until her death in 1977. Winnaretta created a charitable foundation in 1928, and until she moved to England in 1939 hosted cultural events here. The “salon de musique” was decorated by José-Maria Sert during the years 1910-1912, and the foundation continues to present concerts and lectures in the Polignac mansion's music room (detail below).


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean

James Preston as film icon James Dean.

A full-length trailer for a new film that focuses on screen icon James Dean’s homosexual relationships has been released. The biopic comes from queer director/screenwriter Matthew Mishory, who says, “I did a lot of research, and found sources that were interesting to me. I stepped back and found the elements that inspired me. I found a few literary texts that framed the world and framed the story that inspired James Dean, and I sat down and constructed the story.”

Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean tackles its approach head-on. One scene shows James Dean making love to his male roommate in a corridor. Another shows him indulging in a tryst with another male, this time on top of a mountain.

Dean's first biographer was close friend William Bast, who had a intimate relationship with the actor. Dean was also described as homosexual by screenwriter Gavin Lambert and Nicholas Ray, who directed Rebel Without A Cause. Dean avoided being drafted into the war by registering as a homosexual, which was classified as a mental disorder by the US government.

However, when questioned about being gay, Dean famously stated, “I am not a homosexual. But, I'm also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.” He was known to have sexual relations with both men and women. Dean died in a car crash in 1955, aged 24, one month before the release of Rebel Without A Cause.

Dean is played by actor James Preston, who is most famous for his role as a werewolf in the supernatural ABC TV drama The Gates. Also starring, in the role of a film director, is Robert Gant of Showtime’s Queer as Folk fame. Preston was recommended to Mishory by another actor already cast in a different role; they had taken an acting class together. Preston had been discovered by filmmaker David DeCoteau and subsequently cast in the movie The Brotherhood 6: Initiation (2009), a beyond cheesy grade D horror movie in which the male “stars” appear in only boxer briefs 90% of their on-screen time. Oops. Preston will have huge shoes to fill when the inevitable comparisons to James Franco’s turn in TNT’s TV film, James Dean (2001), come to light.

Cinematographer Michael Marius Pessah shot the black-and-white sequences on Fuji color film, removing the color in the transfer to create the glossy yet contrasted look. Film locations include Joshua Tree National Park, Laguna Beach and Hollywood. IMDB shows a release date of August, 2012.

Iconoclastic Features was co-founded by Matthew Mishory and actor/producer Edward Singletary, Jr. The company launched at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.


JOSHUA TREE, 1951 Full-Length Trailer from Iconoclastic Features on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Power Couple David Bohnett & Tom Gregory

Chicago-born David Bohnett is a billionaire philanthropist and technology entrepreneur. He is Chairman of the David Bohnett Foundation, a non-profit, grant-making organization with the goal of improving society through social activism. In 1994 he co-founded GeoCities, an Internet-based media and e-commerce company, subsequently acquired by Yahoo! in a $3.9 billion stock deal. Bohnett, 55, is chief executive of OVGuide.com, an Internet directory and search engine (funded by his venture firm), and is active in causes supporting AIDS research and the arts.

He pioneered and championed the concept of providing free home pages to everyone on the web and was involved with diverse web ventures, including NetZero, PlanetOut Inc., Stamps.com, LowerMyBills, Gamesville, MediaVast, and Xdrive. In 1998 he funded the creation of the CyberCenter, at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, for educational research opportunities to the local gay and lesbian community via the Internet. He also sits on the boards of several civic, philanthropic, and privately held ventures. Bohnett has also been a trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum and has served on the board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was involved in the recruiting and hiring of conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Here he is shown with one of the Los Angeles youth orchestras he supports.


Beginning in 1983 Bohnett was in a relationship with Los Angeles Municipal Court judge and AIDS activist Rand Schrader until Schrader's death in 1993. Bohnett was Schrader's life insurance beneficiary, and he used the funds to create Beverly Hills Internet, which was the precursor to GeoCities.

Until late 2010 Bohnett and his current partner Tom Gregory, owned a Beverly Hills house built for screen legend Gary Cooper in 1955. They acquired it in 1998, handsomely restored the A. Quincy Jones designed residence, bought the lot next door for added privacy, then sold both parcels for $15.5 million in 2010. They used the home for entertaining and fund raising events. Less than a mile away they resided in a 9,000 sq. ft. 1940s era Beverly Hills estate on Roxbury Drive, acquired in 2004 and sold for $23 million nine months ago. The house was across the street from homes formerly owned by Jack Benny and Lucille Ball. During the six years they owned both homes, they referred to the Gary Cooper house as their “country house” and the Roxbury Dr. residence as their “city house.” Two multi-million dollar homes a mile apart. Sweet. The couple also maintain a condo on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, a New York City pied-a-terre at the Sherry Netherland on Fifth Avenue, and a $12 million house in the Hamptons.

Gregory and President Obama flank Bohnett in this recent photo:


Tom Gregory, noted columnist, radio and television personality, is the owner of the auctioned pair of cowboy shirts worn by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the film Brokeback Mountain. Gregory bid $101,100.51 for the shirts on a 2006 Internet auction. The shirts were put up for sale by Focus Features, the distributors of Brokeback Mountain, with the winnings being donated to Variety, a charity for under-privileged Californian children. Gregory calls the shirts the “ruby slippers of our time.” The shirts were expected to sell for around $50,000, but ended up going for twice as much when Gregory placed the winning bid just 28 seconds before the auction’s end. At the film’s emotional conclusion, Ennis embraces the entwined shirts as a symbol of loss of his and Jack's enduring love for each other.


Since 2009 the shirts have been on display at LA’s Autry National Center in Griffith Park, across from the zoo. The Autry, which celebrates the diversity and history of the American West, is named after Gene Autry (1907-1998), the singing cowboy, who dedicated the museum in 1988. The Museum of the American West in Griffith Park was founded as the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, featuring much of his collection of Western art and memorabilia. The Autry is the first major American museum to recognize the contributions of the LGBT community to the American West in a series of programs called Out West at the Autry.

www.theautry.org

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Andy Cohen

Cohen, the rare media executive who pulls double-duty as on-air talent, is also a blogger of note, posting daily on "Andy's Blog" at BravoTV.com, where he covers pop culture, television, media and his daily life. He is about to be a published author. Cohen is currently writing a memoir, to be published this coming summer, and says he is writing every word of it himself. Publisher Henry Holt has released a synopsis of the Bravo Executive VP’s forthcoming book:

"Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo., Cohen knew two things about himself: that he loved popular culture and that, around the age of 12, he was gay. He suppressed the latter and fed the former. His media diet was a steady stream of 70s shows like 'The Brady Bunch,' 'Laverne & Shirley,' and 'Donny & Marie.' He had a passion too for the medium's stars like Farrah Fawcett, Mary Tyler Moore and Susan Lucci, many of whom he would later meet. By his twenties, he was out of the closet and out of St. Louis.  In 1989, his life changed forever when he landed an internship at CBS News in New York. With his irrepressible personality and sky's-the-limit attitude, over time he went from intern to producer, absorbing everything he could about the industry and the guest stars on the network’s morning show. His book will include many hilarious moments of mishaps on the set and while on assignment, and tell of his coming-of-age social life filled with antics and mayhem."

Andy Cohen is the Bravo TV Network's Executive Vice President of Development and Talent and executive producer on the Top Chef and The Real Housewives franchises. In addition, Cohen is the host and executive producer of Watch What Happens: Live, Bravo's late-night, interactive talk show. The sixth season of the show, which started off as a blog that spawned a Web series before migrating to TV as a weekly series, now airs every Sunday through Thursday. It is the only nightly late-night TV show to air live.

Cohen, who started at Bravo in 2005 as Senior Vice President of Original Programming & Development, was previously Vice President of Original Programming for TRIO (pop, culture, TV). Cohen received an Emmy in 2010 for season six of Top Chef in the Outstanding Reality Competition Program category.

Last year Cohen was featured in OUT magazine's "Out 100" issue. He has appeared on the cover of The Advocate and was profiled in New York magazine, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Entertainment Weekly. 

Cohen is a graduate of Boston University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism.  Cohen, who resides in New York City, is currently on the board of directors for the charity Friends In Deed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

James Beard, father of American gastronomy

James Beard (1903-1985) was a chef and food writer, generally recognized as the father of American gastronomy. He moved from Portland, Oregon, to NYC in 1937 to study singing and acting. Failing to find a niche in the theatre scene, he and a friend opened a catering company called Hors D'Oeuvre, Inc. He compiled his catering recipes into a cookbook titled Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapés (1940), and by 1946 he was starring in a televised cooking show. His career as an eminent American food authority took off.

Julia Child described Beard succinctly: “Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled, he was familiar with many cuisines but remained fundamentally American. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time.”

James Beard was also homosexual. He was kicked out of Reed College in 1922 for being gay. In his memoir, he stated, "By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay, and until I was about forty-five, I had a really violent temper."

He never achieved satisfaction from his awkward homosexual orientation, so food was Beard's consolation. Over the next forty years, Beard operated a cooking school out of his apartment in New York, wrote dozens of books on cooking and food, and hundreds of articles on food for many different magazines.

In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School. He generated further income and financed his cooking schools by signing endorsement deals with various food brands, although it was distasteful for him to do so. In 1981, he and Gael Greene founded Citymeals-on-Wheels, which continues to help feed the home-bound elderly in New York City.

Beard died in New York City of heart failure, at the age of 81. After his death in 1985, his friends and former students organized the purchase of his Greenwich Village residence to establish and permanently house the James Beard Foundation. It is North America's only historical culinary centre, a place where all are encouraged to savor the creations of both established and emerging chefs from around the globe. The annual James Beard Foundation Awards are given at the industry's biggest party, part of a fortnight of activities that celebrate fine cuisine and Beard's birthday. The awards ceremony honors the finest chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors and restaurant designers in the country.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gene Raymond


Raymond (above) with Dolores del Rio in Flying Down to Rio* 1933.

His wife of 28 years, Jeanette MacDonald, was much more famous, but Gene Raymond (1908-1998) had a solid career as a leading man of stage, film and TV. He had a strapping physique with blond hair and blue eyes. He was also a singer and composer, writer, director and producer – and a decorated military pilot.

Louis B. Mayer of MGM studios arranged the marriage to prevent MacDonald from marrying her on-screen partner Nelson Eddy, which would have ruined her career. Mayer was concerned that a MacDonald-Eddy marriage would end in divorce, due to their temperaments, then he would lose his lucrative box office team. MacDonald had an affair with Eddy anyway, and Gene Raymond continued to have affairs with other men. In fact, on their honeymoon MacDonald caught Raymond in an embrace with actor Buddy Rogers.

Raymond and wife Jeanette MacDonald (below).


But it gets even messier. Raymond, whose career peaked during the 1930s and 40s, was arrested three times for having sex with men, the last of which occurred in England during WWII. In 1938 Raymond began sharing a house with a 19-year-old actor and was arrested on a morals charge following a raid on a homosexual night club, requiring MacDonald to bribe police in order to obtain his release. An enraged Louis B. Mayer ordered the couple to resume the appearance of a happily married couple. Although he had arranged the marriage, Mayer had Raymond blacklisted following his 1938 arrest for homosexual activity; he made only 7 films from 1940-1948, whereas he had averaged four movies a year prior to the 1938 arrest. Raymond also had affairs with Rock Hudson, Cesar Romero and Robert Stack.

He appeared opposite W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Charles Laughton, Loretta Young, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Dolores del Rio, Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Robert Mitchum and his own wife, who recorded “Let Me Always Sing,” which Raymond composed. Jeanette MacDonald also sang several of Raymond’s songs in her concerts. In 1948's Million Dollar Weekend, Raymond was also director and writer, in addition to being a cast member.

Raymond remarried after Jeanette MacDonald’s death but continued to attend meetings of the Jeanette MacDonald International Fan Club. He retired from the Air Force in 1968 as a colonel. For his contribution to the motion picture and television industries, Raymond has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: at 7003 Hollywood Boulevard and 1704 Vine Street, respectively.

Enjoy this clip from Flying Down to Rio (1933) with Delores del Rio. Raymond is very blond and a very young 25:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

James Deering's Vizcaya


I’m just back from a winter break in south Florida, and I visited the Vizcaya mansion on the shores of Miami’s Biscayne Bay last Sunday. Vizcaya was built over a span of two years, 1914-1916, by James Deering (1859-1925), co-founder and vice president of International Harvester. It is an Italian Renaissance-style villa used by Chicago-based Deering as a 34-room winter home, set among ten acres of formal gardens, which were not completed until 1921, because of the outbreak of WWI. During the construction, ten percent of Miami’s population worked at the Vizcaya site. The original 180 acres included a working farm, machine shop, staff residences, garages, greenhouse, and a paint and carpentry workshop.

Portrait inscribed: to Mr James Deering from his friend John S. Sargent*, Miami 1917.

Deering was discretely homosexual, but is referred to only as a “life-long bachelor” in the printed materials available at the site. There are no reports of his showing romantic or physical interest in women. In addition to making a fortune from agricultural machinery, Deering was a socialite and an antiquities collector. When he was phased out of daily company affairs by J.P. Morgan interests in 1909, Deering decided to go on a buying spree with his gay decorator, designer Paul Chalfin (see portrait c. 1915 below), who made sure that Deering’s winter home did not resemble his brother’s plain-Jane estate a bit farther south. Deering served as Vice President of International Harvester until 1919 and remained a company director the rest of his life. But after the 1909 reorganization, he essentially retired – with a very fat wallet. The Deering family had come into $800 million (in today’s money) from the sale of a part of their company interests to J. P. Morgan bank.

Together, Chalfin and Deering sailed to Europe, snapping up fabulous antiquities (including doors, wall panels, mantels and ceilings) that would be incorporated into the creation of an opulent, over-the-top, decadent, and ostentatious fantasy villa in what is today north Coconut Grove.

Paul Chalfin was a New York based painter-turned-decorator who had worked as an assistant to celebrated designer Elsie de Wolfe. Chalfin was openly homosexual and affected in mannerisms and speech. He and Deering bonded immediately and made numerous trips to Europe to inspect villas and procure furnishings, including wrought iron gates, fountains and antique chimney pieces (one was 20-ft. tall). Chalfin and Deering spent two years formulating the Miami villa before handing the project over to a young, unknown architect, Francis Hoffman, who was in the unenviable position of having to please two clients: Chalfin, who was on site in Florida, and Deering, who was based in Chicago.

Chalfin and Deering had decided on a square Italian courtyard villa placed directly on the shoreline with gardens to the side. Hoffman soon found out that his job was to do as he was told. Since Chalfin was neither trained nor licensed as an architect, Deering’s choice of a younger, unknown architect – hungry for an important commission – meant that Chalfin could get his way, with Hoffman serving primarily as a draftsman. Hoffman readily allowed Chalfin to take credit as his associate architect. Headed off to serve in WWI as the villa neared completion, Hoffman could hardly have contemplated that his good deed would be so rudely rewarded, as Chalfin steadily and gradually claimed exclusive credit as the creator of Deering's widely publicized and critically acclaimed new estate. Chalfin's ego eventually led him to downplay Deering’s own influence on the project, which was considerable.

Liberace would have felt completely at home here. Trust me. There’s a 3-manual pipe organ, tea house, garden theater, statuary walks, courtyards, loggias, bridges, canals, fountains, maze, indoor/outdoor swimming pool, terraces, mangrove swamps, grottos and a room whose entire function was for arranging flowers. Did I mention the stone breakwater barge and yacht landing?



*John Singer Sargent (also discretely gay), who painted clothed women and naked men, was an intimate friend. While staying at Vizcaya, Sargent painted a series of watercolors of male nudes, using the African-American workers on the premises as models (see watercolor below). A further clue to Deering’s sexual orientation is a statue in the gardens that depicts Ganymede, the mythological gay youth who was the lover of Zeus. A tapestry hung inside the villa depicts a male lion with a raging erection. I’m not making this up. James Deering, that life-long bachelor, is speculated by many to have had a relationship with Sargent, as well.

I’m just sayin’.



Although most of the original furnishings remain intact, the south Florida climate took its toll. Of late the original open-air central courtyard has been covered with a glass pyramid so that air conditioning could be installed, diminishing further deterioration of fabrics and furnishings. Innovations at the time of construction include a central vacuum system (in 1916!), an automatic electric telephone switchboard and a fire control system. Upon Deering’s death in 1925, while returning from France on an ocean liner, the house was maintained by minimal staff after it was inherited by two nieces. Following hurricane damage and escalating maintenance costs, the women sold Vizcaya much below value to Miami-Dade County in 1952 to operate as a museum. Today the house and gardens are designated a National Historic Landmark.

The boat house, where Deering’s yacht Nepenthe was docked, along with various lagoons and canals, were lost when some of the acreage was sold off by the nieces. Today Mercy Hospital and a large Catholic church occupy the adjacent acreage where those features once stood.

Several movies (remember Pet Detective?) and documentaries have been shot here. Vizcaya is today a popular backdrop for quinceañera photos/celebrations by Miami’s huge Latina population and the scene of countless fashion photoshoots. During my visit several brides were being photographed in the tea house and gardens. The mansion and gardens may be rented for private functions.

Open daily at 3251 S. Miami Avenue. 305.250.9133.

www.vizcayamuseum.org

As opulent as these photos seem, black and white photos from the 1920s indicate that the rooms contained many more decorative items and details than what visitors view today.

From top:
1. Staircase fountain leading up to garden folly/casino
2. Reception room
3. Bayfront (east) loggia
4. Mr. Deering's bathroom with tented ceiling & water views
5. Teahouse lattice & garden folly/casino interior