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, May 22, 2018

Siegfried Wagner's Homosexual Circle

Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), son of the great German opera composer Richard Wagner (father and son in photo at right), displayed a feminine demeanor while growing up and was greatly attached to his mother. During his student days he often dressed up as a ballerina, and he had affairs with several of his fellow male students.

Siegfried, who was also the grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt, became part of a circle of high-profile closeted homosexual men, including English composer Clement Harris, tenor Max Lorenz, writer Oscar Wilde, illustrator Franz Stassen and Prince Philipp of Eulenburg. In 1892 Clement Harris and 23-year-old Siegfried set off on an around-the-world tour together, and the two fell deeply in love. Wagner kept a portrait of Harris on his desk for the rest of his life.

When journalist Maximilian Harden later accused Prince Philipp of Eulenburg and others close to Kaiser Wilhelm II of homosexuality (Harden-Eulenburg Affair), Siegfried either had to get married or be exposed for what he was. So it was that in 1915 at the age of 46, after strong prodding from his mother, Siegfried Wagner married an 18-year-old Englishwoman named Winifred Klindworth, with whom he had four children, thus providing heirs for the continuation of the Wagner dynasty. His sexual orientation, however, became the source of both scandal and concerted attempts to erase it from the history of the Wagner family.


Siegfried Wagner in his twenties (left).





When the Wagner dynasty’s papers were bequeathed to Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, Winifred Wagner included Siegfried’s musical scores but withheld her husband's correspondence. This was consistent with the family’s notorious stalling and purging of any revelations that would taint the legacy of Richard Wagner.


In response to Harden’s insinuations about his sexual nature, Siegfried replied, “There was ugly gossip about Frederick the Great, too, the greatest king of all time – and he made Prussia great and strong! So don't worry. I won't defile the House of the Festival.” The irony in that statement is that all the rumors and gossip about Frederick the Great were true.

Siegfried did not give up social and sexual relations with homosexuals, however, and he and Franz Stassen (1869-1949), a gay artist who had served as the best man at Siegfried’s wedding, continued a social and artistic relationship that lasted for decades. Stassen (at left) was a noted Art Nouveau painter and illustrator who also married. Siegfried introduced Stassen to Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (1901-1975), much admired by Hitler, even though Lorenz was a gay man married to a Jewish woman. For a time Stassen and Lorenz were involved in an affair. When Hitler, who was a financial supporter of the Bayreuth Festival, could no longer publicly endorse Lorenz, it was Siegfried’s wife Winifred who used her influence to rescue Bayreuth’s star heldentenor from public disgrace, exile and possible imprisonment over a charge of homosexuality.

Most historians concede that Hitler and Winnifred (below) carried on an affair after Siegfried’s death in 1930; there were even rumors of a possible marriage. Although Winifred was proud of her association with Hitler, when he visited her at Bayreuth, she took pains to conceal the connection. Hitler would register at the Hotel Bube in nearby Bad Berneck, and Winnifred would send her own car to pick him up, so that Hitler's ostentatious Mercedes would not be seen pulling into the driveway at Wahnfried, the Wagner family's villa built for Richard Wagner by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.





















Following in his father’s footsteps, Siegfried Wagner was also a composer, but his operas, although popular during his lifetime, never entered the standard repertoire. In 1896 Siegfried began conducting at the Bayreuth Festival and from 1906-1930 was the festival’s sole artistic director. In Siegfried’s controversial 1930 staging of his father’s opera Tannhäuser, he boldly embellished several scenes with scantily clad male teenagers.

Siegfried dedicated one of his eighteen operas to Franz Stassen, who designed illustrations for the programs for Wagnerian opera productions at Bayreuth (example at right). Franz also published homoerotic drawings and paintings and went on to become a major player in the Teutonic Art Nouveau style. During the last decade of his life Stassen wrote recollections about his male "soul mate", thus publicly hinting at his own homosexuality.

In the previous decade Stassen had also become associated with the Nazi Party. He created four important tapestries for Hitler's Reich Chancellery in Berlin that illustrated motifs of the Germanic Edda sagas. In gratitude, Hitler awarded him the title of professor in 1939.

After 1941 Franz lived openly with his male partner and professed his homosexual orientation, but the Third Reich generously overlooked and ignored this declaration. In the final phase of World War II, Hitler included Stassen in the Gottbegnadeten (Gifted by God) list of important artists most crucial to Nazi culture.



Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (right) was homosexual as well, but in 1932 he married Lotte Appel, a Jewish singer who was aware of his sexual orientation going into the marriage. Max’s homosexuality was tolerated by the Nazis as a well-known secret, because Lorenz was a favorite of Hitler. When Lorenz was dragged into court because of an affair with a young man, Hitler advised Winifred Wagner, the director of the Bayreuth Festival after Siegfried’s death in 1930, that Lorenz would not be suitable for the Festival. She replied that in that case she would have to close the Festival, because, “...without Lorenz, there can be no Bayreuth.” Lorenz was thus retained.

As for his Jewish wife Lotte, Max insisted on being open about his marriage of convenience, which was taken as a provocation by the Nazis. Once when Lorenz was away from his house, the SS burst in and tried to take Lotte and her mother away. At the last moment Lotte Lorenz was able to make a phone call to Hermann Göring’s sister, and the SS was ordered to leave their residence and not bother the women. Göring stated in a letter dated March 21, 1943, that Lorenz was under his personal protection, and that no action should be taken against him, his wife, or her mother.

Second Movement (1927) of Siegfried Wagner’s Symphony in C (in the 1925 first version of the symphony, the slow movement was recycled from the prelude to Der Friedensengel, an opera written in 1914, but not premiered until 1926 in Karlsruhe):

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lynn Riggs

Born on a farm outside Claremore, Oklahoma, gay poet and playwright Rollie Lynn Riggs (1899-1954) had once worked as a day laborer, a movie cowboy, a reporter, a Hollywood screenwriter, a proofreader at the Wall Street Journal and a school teacher in Chicago. His father was a cattleman turned bank president, and his mother was 1/8th Cherokee. Lynn grew up during Oklahoma’s territorial days.
 
His first poem was published in 1919 in the Los Angeles Times, where he was working as a proof reader. Before relocating to NYC in 1926, he had worked on a chicken ranch, in a glass factory, and had sung in a Chautauqua quintet. Now he was setting his sights on Broadway.

In 1928 he went to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship, arriving in Paris to work on a new play. Settling in at the famed Les Deux Magots café, Lynn Riggs wrote about life on the Oklahoma Indian territory, relating the loneliness, isolation and violent emotions of life on the frontier before Oklahoma became a state. Many of the characters were based on his own family and friends. As work progressed, he relocated to a $2-a-night rented room in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera west of Nice. He titled his play Green Grow the Lilacs, after a nineteenth-century folk song, and it became the source material for the 1943 landmark Broadway musical Oklahoma!, the first ever collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. 

The first production of Green Grow the Lilacs was a 1931 presentation by the Theatre Guild in NYC, and the cast included Lee Strasberg and a troupe of real cowboys from a rodeo that had just closed at Madison Square Garden. While Rodgers and Hammerstein began crafting their musical version of Riggs’s play in 1942, Lynn was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving his country at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. He did not know that Hammerstein was frequently lifting melodious dialogue from his play verbatim for use as lyrics for the musical’s songs.

Some of Lynn’s postwar scripts achieved success in NYC, where he lived out his days with a series of male companions. Riggs was described as a slight man with fine brown hair and gentle manners. While living in Los Angeles he became a confidant of both Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, functioning as their frequent public escort. In an affectionate gesture Crawford presented him with a Scottish terrier he named The Baron.

Riggs died in NYC of stomach cancer in 1954 at age 54, but his body was returned to his hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma, for interment. A park in Claremore is named in his honor, and a museum in the same town displays photographs that chronicle his lifetime. Also on display are artifacts from the film version of Oklahoma!, including the “Surry with the Fringe on Top” and Laurey’s honeymoon dress. 918.342.1127.

Sources:
Something Wonderful by Todd Purdum (2018)
Thomas Erhard, Oklahoma Historical Society (2009)
A Handbook of Oklahoma Writers by Mary Hays Marable and Elaine Boylan (1939)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Frank Kameny

Kameny picketing in front of the White House in 1965 (he is second in line, immediately to the right of the policeman's elbow, his face partially obscured; click to enlarge).











Gay rights activist Frank Kameny (1925-2011) died this week at age 86, in Washington, DC. He was crusty, in-your-face stubborn and possessed of a one track mind: equality for homosexuals. He was out, loud and proud 24 hours a day. I consider him the most important person I’ve ever entertained in my home. We all owe this man, big time.

Born and raised in NYC, Kameny saw combat as an Army soldier in Europe during WW II. After earning a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University, he went to work as an astronomer for the US Army map service in the 1950s and was fired in 1957 after authorities discovered he was homosexual. Kameny fought the firing and appealed his case to the US Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a homosexual-related case before the high court. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case, but Kameny’s decision to appeal through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate for LGBT equality.

1961: Kameny and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization that embraced aggressive action for the civil rights of homosexuals. In 1963 the group was the subject of Congressional hearings over its right to solicit funds.

1968: He gave us the phrase ''Gay is Good'' back when homosexuality and shame were partners. The Library of Congress archives contain this original example.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and Kameny had played a major role in that change. Kameny “crashed the APA conference in Washington DC, seized the microphone and shouted, ‘We’re not the problem. You’re the problem!’” He and lesbian activist Barbara Gittings were the first recipients of the American Psychiatric Association's John M. Fryer, M.D., Award, recognizing their contribution to fighting against that association’s earlier homophobia.

2006: the Human Rights Campaign presented him with the National Capital Area Leadership Award. That same year the Library of Congress accepted 77,000 items from his collected papers.

2009: President Obama signed an executive order that granted benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees; Kameny was by his side in the Oval Office and received a pen from Obama. Also that year, he received a formal apology from the U.S. government for his treatment all those years ago, and Kameny’s home in Washington DC was designated a Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board.

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Treasures of American History” exhibit includes Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965. The Smithsonian now has 12 of the original picket signs carried by homosexual Americans in the first-ever White House demonstration for gay rights.

By his example, perseverance and sacrifice, he showed Americans what courage looked like.