Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Orlando Cruz

What with all the recent attention given active professional team sports athletes Jason Collins (basketball) and Robbie Rogers (soccer), professional boxer Orlando Cruz wants to remind everyone that he came out before either Rogers or Collins.

Puerto Rico’s featherweight boxer Cruz has won two fights since coming out last year. As an amateur, he represented Puerto Rico at the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia. Cruz made his professional debut that same year against Alfredo Valdez in Puerto Rico. Cruz was undefeated for nine years, until he lost to Cornelius Lock by a technical knockout in 2009. Cruz is currently ranked at No. 4 among featherweights by the World Boxing Organization (WBO).

On October 4, 2012, Cruz became the first WBO boxer to come out as gay while still active professionally, stating that "I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

Cruz revealed in his statement that he was tired of hiding who he really was.

"I don't want to hide any of my identities," he said. "I want people to look at me for the human being that I am. I am a professional sportsman that always brings his best to the ring. I want for people to continue to see me for my boxing skills, my character, my sportsmanship. But I also want kids who suffer from bullying to know that you can be whoever you want to be in life, including a professional boxer, that anything is possible, and that who you are or whom you love should not be an impediment to achieving anything in life.”

Cruz said he met with psychologists and others before making the announcement, adding he had the full support of his family, trainer and manager. He praised his mother and sister for their unconditional love and said his father has always backed him. At the time Cruz came out, no active professional team sports player had yet come out as gay. Robbie Rogers and Jason Collins have since taken care of that deficiency.




Note: U.S. Virgin Islander Emile Griffith, who told The New York Times in 2005 that he struggled with his sexuality, admitted that he had sexual relations with both men and women. His comments, however, came decades after he ended his 18-year career as a pro boxer. Griffith is well-known for his 1962 fight against Cuban boxer Benny Paret, who taunted Griffith with gay slurs before their bout (during the weigh-in, Paret patted Griffith’s behind and called him a maricon – Spanish for “faggot”). Griffith knocked him out, and Paret died 10 days later. Griffith is also a former middleweight champion and a Hall of Famer.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

The Emmy-nominated star’s role on TV’s popular Modern Family has given him the opportunity to reshape public perception of same-sex relationships and their families. Ferguson plays Mitchell Pritchett, an uptight gay lawyer raising an adopted Asian-American baby with his excitable, over-the-top partner, Cameron.


At left: Ferguson with fiancé Justin Mikita.

In a recent Advocate magazine interview, he said, “I feel like there are a lot of people who still aren’t comfortable with gay characters on television, but what I admire about our show is that it has a plethora of characters for people to attach to, and slowly those people are becoming attached to Mitchell and Cam...It’s kind of like a Trojan horse. We sneak into a lot of people’s living rooms when they aren’t expecting it and maybe change some minds through the back door.

Mitchell is basically me, so when people tell me I’m stereotypical and cliché in that role, then Jesse Tyler Ferguson is stereotypical and cliché, because I’m basically doing no acting at all.”

Nonetheless, his performance as Mitchell has earned him three consecutive Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Two weeks ago the series was picked up for a fifth season.

Ferguson has big plans for the summer. He and fiancé Justin Mikita, a lawyer, will be married in New York in July. They met in a gym, where Justin recognized Jesse and came over to say he enjoyed Jesse’s portrayal of Mitchell on the hit television show. They started dating several months later and became engaged eight months ago. At about the same time the couple launched Tie the Knot, which sells custom bow ties and donates all proceeds to various organizations fighting for marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in general.



Says Ferguson, “Justin came up with the idea. I’ve definitely become more of an advocate, philanthropist, and do-gooder because of him. He has really ignited the civil rights passion within me.”

The couple says they would have loved to have gotten married in California, which is where they reside, but, “unfortunately it’s not legal there right now. We’re spending a lot of money on the wedding, and that’s money California is not getting. But congratulations to New York!”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Leo Charlton

Air Commodore Lionel Evelyn Oswald "Leo" Charlton (1879-1958) was a British soldier with a distinguished career. He served in the Second Boer War in South Africa as an infantry officer and later as a brigadier general in the British Army during WW I. Charlton transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF) upon its creation to became Chief of Air Staff in Iraq in 1923. A year later he resigned that post in protest against the British air raids against helpless Iraqi civilians. He visited hospitals where he saw many horribly mangled Iraqis, including women and children. Charlton expected that there would be an investigation upon his resignation. Unfortunately, there was none, and he requested early retirement from military service, which was granted in 1928.

His military awards included Companion of the Order of the Bath, Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, Distinguished Service Order and Knight of the Légion d'honneur. In recent years, the memory of Charlton was taken up by opponents of the recent war in Iraq, specifically by British opponents of their country's involvement in that war, who hold him up as an example to be emulated by present-day officers.

Charlton's longtime lover was an ex-RAF airman named Tom Wichelo. The couple remained together for 23 years, until Charlton’s death in 1958. When Charlton and Wichelo "pitched camp" in Dover in the late 1930s, much of literary London followed them. The main attraction seems to have been the easy availability of soldiers and sailors on leave in the coastal town.

W.H. Auden pictured the scene in his poem "Dover":

    Soldiers crowd into the pubs in their pretty clothes,
    As pink and silly as girls from a high-class academy.

Prominent homosexual personalities like Raymond Mortimer, Duncan Grant, and actors like John Gielgud revolved around Charlton. They met in London at Gennaro’s, in New Compton Street, which was famous for the astonishingly handsome waiters selected by the owner during repeated visits to Italy.

Charlton was also the author of a series of boys’ books, such as “The Camp at Auld-Man-Shiel”. These were adventure novels for adolescents, featuring athletic boys who loved aviation. Charlton became a close friend of famed writers J.R. Ackerley and E.M. Forster. When Charlton wrote his autobiography (1938), he dedicated it to Wichelo, Forster and Ackerley.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Robbie Rogers


Twenty-six year old Robbie Rogers just became the second* openly gay active athlete in U.S. men's professional team sports. He ended his retirement yesterday to join the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer (MLS). Rogers declared that he was gay three months ago, upon announcing his retirement from the sport. More alert readers will recall that the LA Galaxy was David Beckham’s home for six years until his departure last December.

*the first was NBA center Jason Collins (Washington Wizards, now a free agent without a contract to play next season).

Rogers wrote on his website how difficult it was to keep his sexuality hidden:

“For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams...Secrets can cause so much internal damage. People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay. I always thought I could hide this secret. [Soccer] was my escape, my purpose, my identity. [Soccer] hid my secret, gave me more joy than I could have ever imagined."

Robbie Rogers is an accomplished international soccer player now in his prime. He wants to play for the American team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but the only way that can happen is if he excels with the Galaxy. Robbie also hopes to use soccer as a platform for tolerance and acceptance, leading more gay athletes to come out.

Rogers says his epiphany came after speaking to an LGBT youth group in Portland: "I seriously felt like a coward. These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I'm 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I not to  step up to the plate?" Now, just days after his 26th birthday, he's back in the game.

The Southern California native attended the University of Maryland and represented the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He then played for the Columbus Crew, where he engaged in four productive seasons. Rogers won an MLS Cup in 2008, two Supporters Shield titles and a spot on the 2008 MLS Best 11. He has also played British-based soccer for Leeds United and Stevenage.

UPDATE:
May 27.2013: Soccer midfielder Robbie Rogers made his LA Galaxy last night (Sunday) night against the Seattle Sounders. He entered the game to a rousing ovation in the 77th minute, becoming the first openly gay male athlete to play in an American professional team sport. Galaxy chalked up a 4-0 rout. The 26-year-old Huntington Beach, CA, native had five touches, one tackle and three completed passes in the final 13 minutes.

Said teammate Robbie Keane, "It was great to see Robbie [Rogers] get that kind of reception from the fans, and now he can concentrate on being a Galaxy player."

Although the ink was barely dry on his contract (Rogers had signed a scant 24 hours before yesterday’s game), Robbie had been practicing with the team for several weeks.




Video excerpt from an interview with Anderson Cooper (April 15):


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Garrick Ohlsson

One cannot help but take notice when pianist Garrick Ohlsson enters a room. At 6’4” and 260 pounds, he’s hard to miss. He is possessed of a muscular style at the piano that matches his frame. One of today’s top virtuosos, Ohlsson, age 64, was the first American to win the prestigious International Frederick Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970.  Over the subsequent years he’s embraced a broad range of repertoire, yet Chopin has always held a place of honor, not just because of the competition that launched his career. He grew up in New York City at a time when all-Chopin piano recitals were standard practice.

A 2003 profile in the New York Times by James Oestreich mentioned that Ohlsson lives in San Francisco with his companion, Robert Guter, an historic preservationist. While Ohlsson doesn’t like being labelled solely as a gay pianist, he doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. He is out and proud, and “I’m no coward,” he says.

No coward, indeed. As proof, late last year Ohlsson released Close Connections, a disc on which most of the music was written by gay male composers. I received this album as a Christmas gift, and I’m embarrassed that I’m just now listening to it (sorry, Rob!). It contains Triptych (1969), a solo piano piece by Louis Weingarden (1943-1989) written for Ohlsson. Weingarden also wrote a piano concerto (1974) for Ohlsson, and that composition was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. Weingarden and Ohlsson were good friends, even roommates for a time. Also on this disc is Handwork, a piece for solo piano commissioned by Ohlsson in 1986, written by gay composer William Hibbard (1939-1989). Robert Helps (1928-2001), another gay composer, is represented by the solo piano composition “Shall We Dance”.

Of Sicilian and Swedish heritage,  Mr. Ohlsson was born in White Plains, NY. A late starter, he did not begin piano lessons until age 8, but by age 13, he was a student at Juilliard. During his student days he was a whiz at math and languages (he speaks English, Polish, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Swedish).

He has long championed the finger-busting piano compositions of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), going back to his days with his teacher Frida van Dieren, whom Ohlsson called ''a great-grand-pupil” of Busoni.  ''I played my first Busoni when I was 12,'' he said. ''So I grew up with the legend.'' Mr. Ohlsson went on to win the Busoni Competition in Bolzano, Italy, in 1966, at 18. He brags that playing the Busoni piano concerto (a staggering 70 mintes in length) is no harder than playing the Brahms first piano concerto (D-minor) twice.


Here we have Ohlsson’s performance of Chopin’s Etude #1, Op. 10, from the time of his winning the International Frederick Chopin Competition in Warsaw (1970):

Monday, May 20, 2013

Magnus Hirschfeld

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was Germany’s equivalent of American sexologist Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956). Hirschfeld, known as the “Einstein of Sex”, was a major theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

Hirschfeld was born to Jewish parents in the Prussian city of Kolberg (now in Poland) on the Baltic Sea. He studied modern languages in various German cities and eventually took his degree in Berlin in 1892.

In 1896, he wrote Sappho and Socrates, a pamphlet on homosexual love. The following year he joined leaders of the gay journal, Der Eigene (The Self-Possessed), to establish the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. Their first order of business was to work toward the overturn of Paragraph 175, the 1871 German law that criminalized male homosexuality. They collected more than 5,000 signatures on their petition to repeal the law, including such notables as Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse and Rainer Maria Rilke. When their efforts failed in an unsuccessful vote before the Reichstag in 1898, Hirschfeld was so infuriated by the hypocrisy of certain members of parliament that he threatened to out some of those who had voted against it. The committee pressed on, working tirelessly to have their bill reintroduced repeatedly over the following decades. Unfortunately, they were never successful.

The Scientific Humanitarian Committee’s motto, "Through Science to Justice", describes an encompassing sexological platform that moves from acknowledgment of biological facts of human sexuality to a vision of a culture capable of coping with endless sexual diversity. Hirschfeld was convinced that scientific understanding of sexuality would lead to tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities. Thirty-four years before Kinsey, Hirschfeld collected detailed information about sexual behavior in surveys from 10,000 people, and he published the results in his book,  Homosexuality in Men and Women (1914).

During the height of the Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld co-wrote, co-funded and acted in a movie called Anders als die Anderen (Different from the Others, 1919), a silent film whose main character comes out to thwart his extortionist gay ex-lover, but subsequently loses his job and commits suicide. The project was intended as a polemic against Paragraph 175. The film's basic plot was used again in the 1961 British film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde (see entry in sidebar).

That same year, the German government offered Hirschfeld a former royal palace in Berlin to house his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), which offered medical and psychological consultations, marriage counseling, contraception and general sex education. The institute also promoted women’s emancipation and rights for gay and transgender people. The institute quickly became headquarters for the German national gay emancipation movement. Its museum of grotesque sexual paraphernalia was a “must-see” stop for visiting intellectuals like English novelist Christopher Isherwood and French expressionist artist Marc Chagall. It also became a gathering place for Berlin’s thriving subculture of homosexuals, transsexuals (Hirschfeld coined the term in 1923) and transvestites.

The Institute and its work also increasingly came to the notice of the Nazi party. At one point, following a lecture Hirschfeld gave in Munich, he was set upon by a group of Brown Shirts, who fractured his skull and left him for dead in the street. They were bent on eradicating the triple evils of socialists, homosexuals and Jews – and Hirschfeld was all three.

Then things got worse. Unfortunately, on the heels of Hitler’s ruthless elimination of a powerful band of hyper-masculine homosexuals (including many of Hitler’s friends) known as the “Night of the Long Knives”, the Nazis ransacked the institute’s archives on May 6, 1933, confiscating names and addresses. Four days later the Nazis held a massive book burning in Berlin’s Opernplatz, destroying the institute’s collection of 20,000 volumes and 5,000 images on the basis that they depicted “deviants” and “ideas that were un-German.” The institute’s buildings were confiscated and sold to the state. At the time Hirschfeld was on a lecture tour in Paris and never returned home. Hirschfeld learned of the ruinous acts while watching newsreels in a Paris cinema, seated next to his Chinese lover, Li Shiu Tong, who was also Hirschfeld’s life-long traveling companion and fellow researcher.



Barnhard Schapiro (left), a Latvian Jew, was the medical director of the Institute for Sexology at the time it was closed and plundered by the Nazis in 1933. Li Shiu Tong (right) was Hirschfeld’s young Chinese lover.

In France, on his sixty-seventh birthday in 1935, Hirschfeld died from a heart attack, and his remains were buried in a cemetery in Nice. Hirschfeld was survived by Li Shiu Tong, his young partner, colleague, former student, and heir, who lived until 1993. Li was eighty-six years old at the time of his own death in Vancouver. While Hirschfeld was on a round-the-world lecture tour, the two met in Shanghai, and despite the difference in age (Li 24, Hirschfeld 63), the attraction was immediate, and Li joined Hirschfeld’s tour as his “interpreter”. Li, the handsome son of a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, inherited Hirschfeld’s personal letters and effects.

That Which Is Hidden (1939) a novel by Robert Hichens, is based on the relationship between Hirschfeld and Li. The novel opens with the protagonist visiting the tomb of a famed Austrian sex expert, Dr. R. Ellendorf, in a cemetery in Nice. At the tomb, he meets the late doctor's protégé, a Chinese student named Kho Ling. The character of Ling refers to the memory of his mentor at numerous points in the novel.

In 1982, a group of German researchers and activists founded the Magnus Hirschfeld Society in Berlin, in anticipation of the then-approaching 50th anniversary of the destruction of Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Research. Ten years later, the society established a Berlin-based center for research on the history of sexology.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Duane Michals

Maverick photographer Duane Michals (b. 1932) is a self-taught American photographer whose initial success was won with his work for magazines (Esquire, Mademoiselle, Vogue) and under a contract for the government of Mexico, for whom he photographed the 1968 Summer Olympics. He also produced cover art for music albums (The Police and Richard Barone). His portraiture goes against the norm, because he features his subjects in natural settings, instead of in a studio.

Though he has not been involved in the realm of gay rights, his photography often addresses gay themes. He is noted for two innovations in artistic photography, which he developed in the 1960s and 1970s. First, he used a series of photographs to tell a story (Sequences, pub. 1970), and second, wrote text by hand above or below his photographs, giving information that the image itself could not convey (examples below).


    The most beautiful part of a man’s body
    I think it must be there,
    where the torso sits on and, into the hips,
    those twin delineating curves,
    feminine in grace, girdling the trunk,
    guiding the eyes downwards
    to their intersection,
    the point of pleasure. (1986)



The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved
It had been declared illegal by the law
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain
It never occurs to him to break the law.


His work is in demand and highly collectible. Elton John is one of the high profile collectors of Michals’ photographs.

Michals grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), to a Slovak immigrant family. Determined not to follow his father into the steel mills, he left home at seventeen on scholarship to the University of Denver and, after two years in the Army (driving tanks in Germany), took up residence in New York City, where he has lived a not quite quiet life for many decades, working his way into the textbooks of photographic history.

His photographs are highly manipulated, moody and often philosophical. Traditional photographers were aghast when Michals began writing directly onto his prints in his signature scrawl, thus creating an artistic scandal. Nevertheless, his work has been exhibited all over Europe and the U.S., and his globetrotting career is the envy of most professional photographers.

When The New Yorker hired him, at age 72, to photograph gay activist Larry Kramer, Michals revisited the house where he was born in McKeesport. The experience led to a book, “The House I Once Called Home” (2003 ), which Duane refers to as a “photographic memoir with verse”.

Michals lives in the Grammercy Park neighborhood of New York City with architect Fred Gorree, his partner of 53 years.






Friday, May 10, 2013

Yves Montand

When openly gay actor Jean-Claude Brialy, a cinema star of the 1950s and ‘60s, revealed that Yves Montand (1921-1991) had a gay affair with a noted star of French chanson, it sent shock waves throughout France. The singer was Reda Caire (born Youssef Gandhour; "Caire" means "Cairo" in French), the son of a high official in the Egyptian government and of a woman of the Belgian nobility. Reda, who had the right to the title of Count through his mother, although he never used it, became a major singing sensation in the 1920s and was a well-established star by the 1930s, appearing in half a dozen films. Though flamboyant, Caire was extremely popular in the macho city of Marseille, where he met the young Montand, who was the handsome young son of an immigrant Italian dockworker. Montand became one of the most celebrated French actors and singers. In 1944, he was discovered by Édith Piaf in Paris, and she made him part of her act. Eventually Montand became a huge star with an international fan base.

Montand became Reda Caire's private secretary and was his lover for nine months. Caire taught the uncultivated Montand a great deal about singing, stage presence, wardrobe, and the like. Helene Hazara, a cultural critic, radio hostess and expert on French chanson, reported that in Montand’s memoir, he wrote that Reda Claire had made advances to him, which he refused, but became his secretary. It was a cover-up attempt, and Brialy's recent outing of Montand's gay affair was no surprise to Parisians in the know. “In fact," Helene wrote, "everyone in show business knew that Montand had been Claire's lover. In the '50s, Montand used to make homophobic jokes about Reda, who called him up one day and said, 'If you say nasty things about me, I can also tell stories about you!' "

Helene, who as a journalist has written about Reda Caire, reports that "Once when I was in Marseille, an old queen told me that Reda, who could be quite bitchy, had said of Montand, 'C'est étrange qu'un garçon doté d'un si joli membre puisse sentir si mauvais des pieds' " (It is odd that a boy with such a beautiful membrum should have such smelly feet.) Montand, of course, was well-known for the size of his membrum; his wife, Simone Signoret, used to call Montand "mon etalon" (my stallion).

In an interview with the now-defunct French weekly Gai Pied in the 1980s, Montand admitted as a youth having had sex with boys "like all the boys from the Meditérannée".

Well, there you have it. Fancy a vacation in the south of France?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bob Mizer

Most widely known as a photographer, Bob Mizer (1922-1992) was also a filmmaker and  independent publisher. He set the standard for beefcake art. Mizer founded the Athletic Model Guild studio in 1945 when American censorship laws permitted women, but not men, to be photographed partially nude, so long as the result was “artistic” in nature.

Attractive young men came to Los Angeles with the hope of Hollywood stardom. When the offers didn't materialize, many of them came to Bob Mizer's garage for a few dollars and a photo shoot that put them in the catalogue of the Athletic Models Guild. As his photographs and models became more and more popular, Mizer developed a trademark style that included projected backgrounds and lavish props. His mother and brother assisted his endeavors, and Mizer turned the family home into a haven for the young men he loved to photograph. After more than 20 years of work that showed no genitalia, he advanced to taking photographs of his models that displayed full frontal nudity, and sales skyrocketed. Even later he moved into hard-core content, and Mizer worked at his homoerotic craft every day until his death.

Model Dick Dubois, 1956


Mizer’s diaries, kept from the age of eight, make it clear that he was openly homosexual from his late teens, but until the age of 42 he lived and worked in his mother’s Los Angeles rooming house, where a strict ethical code prevented him from fully expressing his gay fantasies. For 24 years he worked in black and white and never showed a completely naked man, but following his mother’s death in 1964 Mizer plunged full force into the pleasures of male flesh, photographing fully nude men in explicit poses, often in psychedelically saturated colors.

In the 1970s and ’80s Bob Mizer’s compound, centered around the old rooming house, became home to dozens of his young models, who lived outdoors on couches and porch gliders among the chickens, geese, goats, monkeys, Roman statuary, cast off Christmas trees and other sundry props that featured in his increasingly quirky films and photography.

His career, however, had some serious bumps at the start. In 1947 he was wrongly accused of having sex with a minor and subsequently served a year-long prison sentence at a desert work camp in California. However, his career was catapulted into infamy in 1954 when he was convicted of the unlawful distribution of obscene material through the US mail. The items in question were a series of black and white photographs, taken by Mizer, of young bodybuilders wearing what were known as posing straps,  a precursor to the G-string.

Upon his release from prison, Mizer continued working undeterred, founding the groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial in 1951, which also debuted the work of artists such as Tom of Finland and Quaintance. This was America’s first male physique magazine, and certainly the gayest. Mizer's photographs were playful, tame images of young men posing, flexing, wrestling, and goofing off, while in states of near nudity. On the surface, they were marketed as physique materials, supposedly intended for bodybuilding and physical culture adherents, but they were really targeted toward for gay men, walking a fine line as to what was legally permissible.

Models included future Andy Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro and actors Glenn Corbett, Alan Ladd, Victor Mature. Throughout his long career Mizer produced a dizzying array of intimate and idiosyncratic imagery, some bereft of explicit content but bathed nevertheless in an unmistakable homoerotic aura, tributes to the varieties of desire. Mizer’s influence on artists ranging from David Hockney (who moved from England to California in part to seek out Mizer), Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Bacon, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and many others is only now beginning to be widely appreciated.

Model Don Silvas, 1958

The bulk of the effects of Mizer's estate was unceremoniously thrown into a dumpster in 1992, after his death in Los Angeles. Fifty-year-old boxes of correspondence, studio props and personal artifacts from one of America’s most controversial artists were gone forever.  Luckily the core of his life's work, consisting of about one million photographic negatives and thousands of 16mm films and videotapes, survived this irresponsible action and was boxed up and locked in storage for the next decade. 

Bob Mizer’s mid-20th century photography helped shape the modern aesthetic and even some of the civil rights and censorship laws that we take for granted today. His classic images of muscled young men are reflected in today's advertising campaigns (Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch), but in the 1940s, these types of photographs landed him in prison.  Many Hollywood stars began their careers in Mizer’s studio, including sword-n-sandal film star Ed Fury, Glenn Corbett of Route 66, Andy Warhol’s protege Joe Dallesandro, and even former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.

His work mirrored our nation’s popular culture at the moment.  Images of young hoodlums in leather jackets sneered across his photographs as Marlon Brando and James Dean brawled on the big screen. Mizer’s Greek statues and Roman gladiators mimicked the ancient world as Charlton Heston reigned on the screen in Ben-Hur. It was all very kitschy and delicious fun.

In 2003, through a series of fortunate mishaps, photographer and filmmaker Dennis Bell made the decision to keep Mizer’s work together by acquiring the remainder of the estate from a storage locker.  This occurred just days before the contents were slated to be completely split apart and sold off piecemeal, which would have removed this material from the public eye forever.  Bell founded the non-profit Bob Mizer Foundation and has become the new guardian of Mizer’s work. 

The 1999 film “Beefcake” chronicled Mizer’s life and work.

This 93-minute docu-drama pays homage to the muscle magazines of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s – in particular, Physique Pictorial magazine, published by Bob Mizer of the Athletic Model Guild. It was inspired by a picture book by F. Valentine Hooven III (pub. by Taschen) and was directed by Thom Fitzgerald. The film features pastiche recreations of life at the Athletic Model Guild, mixed with interviews with models and photographers whose work actually appeared in the early magazines, including Jack LaLanne and Joe Dallesandro.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was a great military leader, a social reformer, a persuasive and brilliant diplomat, a shrewd economist and the first president of the modern Turkish Republic. He was reelected fifteen years in a row, and the only reason he was not reelected for a sixteenth time was that he had drunk himself to death by the age of fifty-seven.

"A man born out of due season, an anachronism, a throwback to the Tartars of the steppes, a fierce elemental force of a man. With his military genius and ruthless determination, in a different age he might well have been a Genghis Khan, conquering empires."

Never in doubt of his abilities, the man excelled at every task he took on. Time and again he developed battle plans that succeeded against impossible odds. His triumph at Gallipoli against the British and Australians was nothing short of a miracle. As well, his powers of persuasion were legendary. I quote a speech he made to those whose family members or loved ones had lost their lives and lay buried on Turkish soil:

"Those heroes (who) shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us – where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers who sent (your) sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

Amazing, no? The Turkish War of Independence, which ended in 1922, was the last time Atatürk used his military might in dealing with other countries. Ensuing foreign issues were resolved by peaceful methods during his presidency.

During his days as a Military Attaché in Sofia, Bulgaria (1914-1915), he adopted western European dress for the first time, usually wearing a business suit with a vest, since he had been ridiculed for his fez and Turkish military attire. He was astonished that neighboring Sofia, so near to Turkey’s doorstep, boasted an opera house, theatre, national library and a ballet company. He determined then and there that Turkey’s future must be forged upon Western European models, and that it must shed its backward, Islamic traditions. A staunch agnostic, Macedonian-born Atatürk turned the Islamic Turkish nation upside down. After seizing control of the country he abolished centuries of Shari’ah (Islamic) law, eliminated the Caliphate, implemented the Western European calendar, sent the Sultan into permanent exile and ordered Islamic religious schools closed. He cracked down harshly on once-powerful religious orders, such as the dervishes.

But he was just getting warmed up. He opposed the Turkish government's decision to surrender to the Allies after WW I, so he organized an army of resistance, which successfully defeated the Allied occupation forces. Atatürk changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul and established a Republic with a new capital in Ankara, a more centrally located city. Atatürk became the Republic's first president. He once more set his sights on reform by banning the veil and fez, leading by example; he strutted around in Panama hats and western business suits before a shocked public. He gave women the right to vote, thus making Turkey the first Muslim country to do so. He ordered men to appear in public with their wives – even to dance with them; prior to this decree most Turkish men had never before met each other's wives. In his spare time Kemal banned polygamy. Oh, I nearly forgot – he forced everyone to take a surname. His own surname, Atatürk (meaning "Father of the Turks"), was granted to him, and forbidden to any other person, in 1934 by the Turkish parliament. He abolished the use of Arabic script and replaced it with a Latin (West European) alphabet, at the same time making secular public education compulsory, even for women, thus thumbing his nose at centuries of Islamic segregation of the sexes.

"Fellow countrymen," he declared, "you must realize that the Turkish Republic cannot be a country of sheikhs or dervishes. If we want to be men, we must carry out the dictates of civilization. We draw our strength from civilization, scholarship and science and are guided by them. We do not accept anything else."

In a span of less than ten years he had resurrected a people with “Loser” stamped upon their foreheads into a force to be reckoned with, deserving of respect. He had the populace in his pocket and was nearly universally beloved by his people and respected by his enemies. To this day it is against the law to insult his memory or destroy anything that represents him. There is even a government website that polices and denounces those who violate this law, which has been in force since 1951. 
In 2007 the Turkish government blocked YouTube throughout the country for 30 months, in retaliation for four unflattering videos about Atatürk that alleged that he was a Freemason and a homosexual, citing a book printed in Belgium that is still banned in Turkey – international standards of free speech be damned. I don’t know about Freemasonry, but my research has shown that Atatürk was not a homosexual. He was bisexual and always preferred the company of men. I will quote a passage from this book – one of the most awkward and tortured examples of syntax I’ve ever read:

Women, for Mustafa, were a means of satisfying masculine appetites, little more; nor, in his zest for experience, would he be inhibited from passing adventures with young boys, if the opportunity offered and the mood, in this bisexual fin-de-siècle Ottoman age, came upon him.” (Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross)

In short, this man engaged in occasional sexual dalliances with young men, yet he was briefly married to a woman.*  In the two biographies I have read, Atatürk comes across as an omnisexual, using sexual prowess as just another tool of intimidation, a man obsessed by conquest. If he had been a guest in my home, I’d have feared for my larger houseplants. His libidinous influence is felt today – Turkey is the only Muslim country where homosexuality is not against the law.

*He had seven adopted children: six daughters and one son. Ulku Adatepe, just nine months old when adopted by Atatürk, died last summer in an automobile accident at age 79. As a young girl she had traveled with her adoptive father as he traversed the entirety of Turkey to teach the new alphabet to his people. She was just six years old when Atatürk died.

All that off towards one side, Atatürk’s veneration has been constant since his death in 1938, nearly 75 years ago. His photograph appears on the walls of restaurants, shops, schools and government offices. His image is on banknotes, and nearly every Turkish town sports a statue or bust of the man. Your blogger knows this first-hand, since I have just returned from my second trip to Turkey this calendar year. At the exact time of his death, on every November 10, at 9:05 a.m., most vehicles and people in the country's streets stop for a minute of remembrance.

Update:  
In response to several readers' requests for specific resources attesting to Atatürk’s bisexuality:

Atatürk (1962) Irfan and Margaret Orga:
He had never really loved a woman. He was used to the camaraderie of the mess, the craze for handsome young men, [and] fleeting contacts with prostitutes, … His body burned for a woman or a boy...

Mustafa Kemal, An Intimate Study (1933) by H.C. Armstrong
Pages 253-254:
After divorcing Latife, ...he went back to the long nights in smoke-filled rooms with his drinking friends...after that he became shameless. He drank deeper than ever. He started a number of open affairs with women, and with men. Male youth attracted him...”

Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals – by Keith Stern (pub. 2009)

Achilles to Zeus (pub. 1987) by Paul Hennefeld

Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation (2001) by Patrick Kinross, a former British Diplomat