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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cole Porter

At the time he sang second tenor in the Glee Club at Yale, Cole Porter (1891-1964) also appeared in stage roles and performed cabaret sets at private parties. It became his habit to step out of the chorus just before the choir’s last number to sit at the piano to accompany himself in a solo performance of songs and patter, much of the clever and cheeky material his own. Although he was listed just once in the program, the audience usually kept him there until he had gone through 10-12 encores. Reviewers called him the “highlight” of the concerts, “a clever imitator, strong singer and comedian”. Then, as later in life, Porter wrote both the words and music to his songs.

After one year he dropped out of Harvard Law School, where he had resided with Dean Acheson, the future Secretary of State. His unwavering D-grades in all his law courses resulted in a transfer to the School of Music in 1914 for his second year at Harvard. For a time he studied music with Pietro Yon, who went on to become famous as organist at NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Porter, who was exclusively homosexual, met his future wife Linda at a 1918 wedding reception in Paris, where he had lingered after serving in France in a volunteer ambulance unit during the final year of WW I. At least that's what he told Linda. Although Cole appeared on the streets of Paris in various military uniforms, later biographers revealed that Porter never served in the military of any country. Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with a little of everything sprinkled in for good measure – much gay and bisexual activity, cross-dressing, international musicians, Italian nobility, and a large surplus of recreational drugs. For a twenty-something boy born on a farm in Peru, Indiana, things were moving fast.

Linda Lee Thomas (at right), a fabulously wealthy socialite divorcée, was descended from the Paca family (one of whom was a signer of the Declaration of Independence) as well as from the Lees of Virginia. Linda was well aware of Porter’s homosexuality, but they nevertheless married on December 12, 1919, and remained based in Paris as bon vivants of hedonistic high style until 1937, when war clouds forced their return to the U.S. Many of their circle suspected that Linda might be lesbian or bisexual, while others thought of her as asexual. Whichever was true, their marriage was without sex, but certainly not without love. They adored each other. Years later Linda miscarried, but it is not certain whether Cole was the would-be father. Linda was known to have affairs of her own, but it cannot be determined if they were sexual. It’s all a cloud of ambiguity.

After their honeymoon in southern France and Italy, Cole sought further formal musical training, enrolling at the Schola Cantorum in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He soon abandoned his notion of writing serious orchestral music, however, and did not complete the curriculum.

Linda, thirteen years older than Cole, provided him with a passport to social landscapes he could never have traversed on his own. Their world was a fusion of outrageous Bohemianism and mad-cap Roaring Twenties liberation, tossed together with moneyed misfits, exiled royalty, show business personalities and assorted impoverished creative geniuses. Included in their social circles were Coco Chanel, Lauritz Melchior and Arthur Rubenstein, who loved to sit down at the piano to play Cole Porter songs. In short, they knew anyone worth knowing.

Soon after their marriage, Linda bought a much larger Parisian residence in 1920 at 13, rue Monsieur, a street just one block long, not far from Les Invalides and the Rodin Museum (and purchased for more than $10 million in today’s money). The rear garden backed up to the house of Nancy Mitford, the British novelist, biographer and socialite, who was involved in a romance with the homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St. Clair-Erskine. But I digress.

Linda’s house in Paris was so large that they rented a suite of rooms to Howard Sturges, a close friend of Linda’s who became Cole’s dearest life-long friend. Sturges lent Linda a beautiful painting by Christian Bérard, which hung for years in their Parisian drawing room. Sturges, a witty, old-money Boston socialite, was a trained violinist who kept a pet bear and walked a pig on a leash through the streets of Paris. I’m not making this up.

Hostess Elsa Maxwell leans over a smiling Cole Porter. The lesbian society maven was a huge fan and patron.



Sturges often traveled with Cole and Linda, wherever their journeys took them, and Cole and Howard made this three-way friendship more complicated when the two men entered into an affair. The Porters were peripatetic to the extreme. They always traveled with an entourage of servants and friends, usually picking up the tab for their guests, and quickly became acquainted with Egypt, Monte Carlo, Italy, London, Biarritz, Spain and New York. To say that the Porters lived large is understatement.

Cole and Linda befriended wealthy American ex-pats Gerald and Sarah Murphy, and together they made the South of France a fashionable year-round resort destination. There were striking parallels in the lives of the Murphys and Porters, not the least of which was the fact that both Gerald and Cole were married homosexual men.

In 1923 Cole’s wealthy grandfather died. Long disapproving of Cole’s choice of a career, he made no mention of Cole in his will. Of the four million dollars left to Cole’s mother, however, she gave half to her son, then 32 years old, who later said the inheritance didn’t spoil or ruin his life – it just made it wonderful. Well, not everything was wonderful. It was about this time that Porter tested positive for syphilis.

Soon Cole and Linda became part of the social set of Prince and Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The princess, based in Paris, was heir to the singer sewing machine fortune. She was a captivating lesbian married to a homosexual (and financially destitute) prince, who was himself a talented amateur composer. They hosted private musical salons that drew on the talents of Stravinsky, Fauré, Satie, Ravel and Milhaud. The Polignac’s musical afternoons were for decades the most important and influential venue for new French music.

For five summers during the 1920s, the Porters descended upon Venice, renting the fabulous Palazzo Rezzonico. During the summer of 1925 Cole became completely smitten with Boris Kochno, a Russian poet, librettist and Ballet Russes dancer who was Diaghilev's collaborator. Their correspondence survives, and Porter comes across as a love-sick puppy. Soon thereafter, Porter returned to the U.S. to write shows for Broadway and Hollywood. While living in New York, Porter found that paying for sex was less complicated emotionally, and it allowed him to indulge his taste in sailors, marines and assorted prostitutes.

Porter's piano (right) stands today on the cocktail terrace of the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in NYC, where Cole and Linda Porter kept an apartment* in the Waldorf Towers, the residential wing of the hotel. The 1907 Steinway grand, with a hand decorated walnut case, was a gift from the hotel in 1945. Upon Porter's death in 1964, the piano went downstairs to the lobby.


Monty Woolley, who often joined Cole to cruise New York City's waterfront bars and bordellos, recounted that one night, a young sailor they approached by car asked outright, "Are you two cocksuckers?" Woolley responded with, "Now that the preliminaries are over, why don't you get in and we can discuss the details?"

Cole’s numerous male lovers included Nelson Barfeld (a dancer/choreographer who was a former U.S. Marine), Robert Bray (a married Californian) and Jack Cassidy (a character actor). Not to mention architect Ed Tauch, director John Wilson and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of Porter's copyright royalties. After relocating to  Hollywood, he was a regular guest at George Cukor's Sunday all-male pool parties, but soon the two became rivals. While renting a beautiful Hollywood home owned by renowned homosexual actor-decorator Billy Haines, Porter held competing all-male parties, and Cole’s became the more valued invitation. Porter was not discrete. A recent biography recounts that in his later years, Cole kept "breaking appliances so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair". As well, Scotty Bowers's recent Hollywood tell-all recounts that Porter had a decided taste for giving oral sex to Marines while suffering verbal abuse and humiliation. The homosexual relations were not casual. All of Porter's sexual activity was homosexual, and he became more brazen in the more open and permissive atmosphere of Hollywood. Linda reacted by staying away from California, sailing back and forth between her residences in Paris and New York. She was quietly making plans to divorce Cole.

Then in 1937, Cole was involved in a tragic horse riding accident and fractured both his legs. This was especially debilitating and humiliating to the ego of a vain man who placed enormous value on looks and a dashing appearance for both social and sexual reasons. He was in the hospital for months as his mental and physical health waned. He was in constant pain from his leg injuries and underwent 34 operations, all ultimately unsuccessful. Linda changed her plans and returned to Cole's side; they shared quarters at the Waldorf Towers in NYC, and before long he returned to writing songs.

Porter hired a driver and a personal assistant, who tended to details such as getting Cole into and out of wheelchairs, elevators and buildings. Soon enough Porter was reviving his lusty male/male activity. Once he graduated from a wheelchair to a cane, he maintained a small house overlooking the ocean at Lido Beach on Long Island, which he used for male/male trysts. Frank Walsh, a soldier stationed at Governors Island, recalled attending a party at Porter's Lido Beach residence, describing it as "a drinking and sex party, nearly orgiastic, with fifty or more soldiers kissing, drinking and engaging in lots of very graphic sex." At about this time Cole tripped on a stair and broke his left leg again, causing a major setback to his recovery.

Cole Porter portrait by Richard Avedon, 1950.

In 1945, he lent his permission to the movie project Night and Day, allegedly about the life of Cole Porter. Although a great boost to his ego, the plot was a wildly fictionalized biography. His friends thought it hysterically funny, knowing the divide between fact and fiction. The movie overlooked Porter’s overly pampered and controlled youth, his notorious gay life and his sexless marriage of social convenience; instead it lent credence to the tall tales Cole spread about himself, such as his (fake) war record and injuries. According to friends, Cole enjoyed the movie's wildly fictional account, and he especially savored having closeted movie star Cary Grant play a heroic, straight version of himself. Fortunately Porter did not live to see the 2004 film De-Lovely, a wretched misstatement of facts and an utter bore. I do not know how it was possible to make the extravagant, over-the-top lives of Cole and Linda Porter, portrayed by Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, appear so dull.

Porter's greatest hit musical came late in his career. Kiss Me Kate (1948) is a play within a play about a troupe putting on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. W. H. Auden even called it a much better piece of theater than The Taming of the Shrew (!). A film version hit movie theaters in 1953, also to great acclaim, but Porter's risqué lyrics had to be sanitized to avoid the Hollywood code censors, thus robbing the musical of much of its comedy. The film was originally released in 3-D.

A major blow came with Linda’s death in 1954. She died after a long illness from chronic respiratory problems at their apartment in the Waldorf Towers in NYC. Although they had separated only to reunite several times, they remained devoted to each other. She left an estate of over $1.5 million, in which Cole had a lifetime interest (Cole had also inherited the bulk of his mother's half million dollar estate, but needlessly worried about money constantly). He was given Linda's Williamsport, Massachusetts, estate outright, as well as all of Linda's personal belongings.

Unfortunately, Porter descended into further creative silence and social isolation in 1958, when his right leg was finally amputated. Porter was embarrassed and incapacitated by the surgery. Linda Porter had acquired a 40-acre estate in the Berkshires in 1940, and after her death, Cole became a virtual recluse at Buxton Hill**, as the property was named (current photo below). In a bizarre act Porter ordered the Tudor-style main house razed after  Linda's death and moved a caretaker’s cottage to the location of the original house. According to one of his biographers, visitors to Buxton Hill became fewer and fewer, because most weekends Porter was wicked drunk and ignored his invited guests, some of whom dubbed the farm, “the torture chamber.” At Cole’s death from kidney failure in 1964 (at a nursing home in Santa Monica), the Buxton Hill estate went to Williams College, but returned to private hands a few years later. It recently served as a luxury inn, with tennis courts and a 30' X 50' swimming pool. And the whole shebang (structures and 40 acres of land) subsequently hit the market for $4.5 million. 1425 Main St., Williamstown, MA. It has since gone off the market.

**When Cole Porter formed his own publishing company, he named it Buxton Hill.



* Porter’s 5-bedroom apartment in the Waldorf Astoria was available for rent last year at the rate of $150,000 a month. No lie. The Porters had lived in several apartments at the Waldorf Towers from 1939 to 1954, but Cole moved into this much larger unit just after the death of Linda. When Porter moved to apartment 33-A (1955-1964), he hired Billy Baldwin to do the interior design work. Baldwin was so well-known for his love of slipcovers that Cole Porter joked that he didn’t want to come back to find his piano slip covered! After Cole Porter died, Frank Sinatra moved in. Quite a pedigree for Waldorf Towers apartment 33-A (floor-plan porn below).



Of note: Porter’s wildly successful 1934 musical Anything Goes is currently being revived on Broadway, and a touring company will soon take the show to audiences all across the country.

His body of work includes some 1,400 songs. Some are one-offs which continue to astonish listeners today. For example, in Miss Otis Regrets (1934) we are told by a servant of a polite society lady how her employer was seduced and abandoned. In just a few lines of lyrics, we learn that Miss Otis hunted down and shot her seducer, was arrested, taken from the jail by a mob, and lynched. The servant conveys Miss Otis's final, polite, apologetic words to her friends: "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today." There is not another song like it.

Carmen McRae
's impassioned reading of "Miss Otis Regrets..."




Among Cole Porter’s classic American standards are:


Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye (1944)
Ray Charles and Betty Carter’s classic reading of Porter’s extraordinary tune and lyric:

When you're near there's such an air of spring about it.
I can hear a lark somewhere begin to sing about it.
There's no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor
Everytime we say goodbye.





Begin the Beguine (1935)

Don’t Fence Me In (1934)

From This Moment On (1950)


I Love Paris (1952)

I Get a Kick Out of You (1934)

I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936)

In the Still of the Night (1937)


Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love (1928)

Night and Day (1932 - one of ASCAP's top 10 all time money makers)

You’re the Top (1934)






True Love (1956)
Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly sing a duet aboard the yacht True Love in High Society, the musical remake of Philip Barry’s 1939 stage play, The Philadelphia Story (made into an acclaimed film in 1941).




Some songs have remained inexplicably obscure. After You, Who? was a great favorite of Mabel Mercer, but I had not heard anyone else sing it in years. Imagine my surprise when John Barrowman included it on a recent album.



After You, Who? - The Gay Divorce* (1932)

Though with joy I should be reeling that at last you came my way,
There's no further use concealing that I'm feeling far from gay,
For the rare allure about you makes me all the plainer see
How inane, how vain, how empty life without you would be.

After you, who could supply my sky of blue?
After you, who could I love?
After you, why should I take the time to try,
For who else could qualify - after you, who?
Hold my hand and swear you'll never cease to care,
For without you there what could I do?
I could search years but who else could change my tears
Into laughter after you?

* Hollywood codes forced the 1934 film version to be called The Gay Divorcée. Censors would not concede that a divorce could be something joyous. I kid you not.

Trivia: Cole Porter was left handed and found it awkward to write down music on staff paper. He worked out a solution by turning the paper at a right angle, so that the staff lines were vertical. True.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

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 expatriots, 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. 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.