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, October 23, 2014

Herbert List

Gay German photographer Herbert List (1903-1975) was the son of a prosperous family that ran a coffee brokerage business. List received a classical education in literature at the University of Heidelberg but apprenticed at his family’s coffee company, which afforded him travel to Brazil, Guatemala and Costa Rica. He began taking photographs during these business trips, and his legacy became black and white homoerotic photographs of young men.

In his earliest photographs List shot portraits of friends and composed still lifes with a Rolleiflex camera, using male models, draped fabric, and masks – along with double-exposures. He had a fascination with Surrealism and Classicism. List explained that his photos were "composed visions where my arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.”

In 1936 List left Germany to take up photography as a profession, finding work in Paris and London. He was hired by magazines to shoot fashion photography, but he soon returned to still life imagery, producing photographs in a style he called "fotografia metafisica", which pictured dream states and fantastic scenes, using mirrors and double-exposure techniques.

During the late 1930s he traveled in Greece, where he took photographs of ancient temples, ruins, sculptures, and landscapes that were published in books and magazines. However, in 1941, during World War II, he was forced to return to Germany, but because one of his grandparents was Jewish, he was not allowed to publish or work professionally. In 1944 he was drafted into the German military, despite being homosexual and of partly Jewish ancestry. During the war he served in Norway as a map designer. A trip to Paris allowed him to take portraits of Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Christian Berard, Georges Braque, Jean Arp, Joan Miró and other international celebrities.

While working as art editor of Heute (Today) magazine he joined Magnum, a cooperative of photographers founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others. For whatever reason, List contributed only sparingly from 1951 until the mid 1960s.

For the next decade he concentrated his work in Italy, where he began using a 35 mm film camera and telephoto lenses. In 1960 he shot portraits of Marino Marini, Paul Bowles, W. H. Auden and Marlene Dietrich (shown). Soon thereafter he gave up photography to concentrate on drawings, recently displayed at Berlin’s gay museum (Schwules Museum, Mehringdamm 61). Although List died in Munich in the spring of 1975, his style lives on in the work of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber, particularly.

Trivia: In 1988, Stephen Spender published The Temple, a roman à clef of his pre-war years in Germany; the novel includes a character named Joachim, who is based on Herbert List.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

George Edward Kelly

If you are of a certain age, you know that Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who became the Princess of Monaco when not yet twenty-six years old, was a stage, television and film actress in her youth. She made her acting debut in The Torch-Bearers in 1949 at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. This popular satiric comedy was written in the early 1920s by her uncle, George Edward Kelly (1887-1974); the play takes pot shots at the egos and foibles of community theater. Apparently Princess Grace adored her uncle, and the two visited often – George accepting invitations to Monaco and Princess Grace visiting her uncle at his home in California. Many biographers relate that George was partly responsible for his niece’s becoming as actress.

Three years after writing The Torch Bearers, George Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the play Craig’s Wife, subsequently made into three film versions. An earlier play, The Show Off (1924) had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Gregory Kelly (husband of Ruth Gordon) portrayed Joe Fisher, and Louise Brooks was Clara, the girl next door, in the 1926 silent film version of George Kelly’s famous play, The Show Off, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. 

What few people knew at the time was that George was a gay man. He maintained a 55-year relationship with his lover William E. Weagley (sometimes spelled Weagly), who was often referred to as Kelly’s valet. That Kelly was gay was a closely guarded secret and went unacknowledged by his family – to the point of their not inviting Weagley to Kelly’s funeral in Pennsylvania. Weagley quietly slipped in and took a seat in the back at St. Bridget’s in order to attend the service. Worse, the Philadelphia Kellys, who seldom missed an opportunity to pass moral judgment on others, forced Weagley to eat in the kitchen with the servants when George and William were visiting, thus reinforcing their acknowledgment that William was regarded as nothing more than George’s employee, a valet. While it’s true that William often cooked, typed, and performed secretarial services for George, William was much more than a traveling companion and valet. The couple were loyal, devoted partners who were deeply in love.

When George and William hosted dinner parties at their home in Laguna Beach, California, the two men sat at opposite ends of the table as equal co-hosts and partners. Subsequently, many of the Kelly clan of righteous Irish Catholics refused invitations from George.

Caricature of playwright George Kelly (at right):

George and William met in 1919, when George maintained a suite at NYC’s Concord Hotel. At the time, George was a vaudevillian actor and skit writer, as was his brother Walter. The story goes that William was working as a bellhop at the hotel, and the two became lovers within a short time after meeting. George educated William in the rules of etiquette so that the two could appear in high society as social equals.

Kelly’s play Reflected Glory (1936) was also about theater people, and it was the vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead’s first major NYC role, that of a woman’s difficult choice between marriage and a career.

In a profile published at the peak of Kelly’s fame, it was revealed that George had some quirky habits:

At first he insisted on directing his own plays, and he enacted every role.

He went out very little and often stayed at home for days, because he hated publicity and celebrity.

His writing desk had to be maintained in perfect order. An out of place piece of paper bothered him.

He often worked at writing plays at the typewriter in marathon 18-hour stretches.

He loved to travel, but he hated trains, preferring boats.

He collected watches by the drawer full.

George was an expert at horseback riding, bridge, tennis and golf.

He seldom attended the theater, going out to a play about once a year. He never saw his own plays from the house – he watched them while standing in the wings.

He had a remarkable memory and knew every line of all his plays by heart. Once he jumped into the lead role of his play Behold the Bridegroom (1927) with only five minutes’ notice.