Before 1950's Feed

Famed Spanish Poet-Writer Federico Garcia Lorca Executed (August 19, 1936)

Federico_garcia_lorcaJust one month after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War one of Spain's most renowned poets, Federico Garcia Lorca, was executed on Aug. 19, 1936.  His body was dumped into an unmarked grave with those of a few others shot at the same time.  He was 38 years old.  There are a number of conflicting stories about the reason for his murder.  Some say it was for his leftist political views while others cite his homosexuality as playing a role.  To make his murder even more distressing, it has never been determined beyond a doubt where his body was buried.



Little_ashes For a number of years in the 1920s Lorca carried on an affair with avant garde artist Salvador Dali, six years Lorca's junior.  It was said to be a largely unrequited relationship with Lorca the frustrated pursuer.  The 2008 movie Little Ashes tells the story of their anguished relationship.  (Actor Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame, portrayed Dali.)  After showing at a number of lesbian and gay film festivals in the U.S. it had a very limited release.  Although the movie was beautiful to look at reviews were largely tepid. 





Celebrating 120 Years of Crisco





Crisco shortening was introduced by Procter & Gamble on Aug. 15, 1911.  Made from vegetable oil, it was an improvement over using lard for cooking, and helped housewives get better results with their baking.  It was especially celebrated for the flaky pie crusts it produced.  However, some gay men use it for an entirely different purpose - as a lubricant for "fisting".  (When Crisco was introduced in smaller containers, the joke was that this convenient size was sold only in New York and San Francisco.)  In 2002, P&G sold the brand to the J.M. Smucker Company.     




And that's not the only connection Crisco has to the gay world.  Nearly 40 years ago there was a popular gay disco located in New York's Meatpacking District called Crisco Disco.  A large Crisco Can served as a DJ booth (pictured, above), which comfortably fit up to ten people.  More recently, gay clubs in Tampa and Venice Beach have held weekly "Crisco Disco" nights, when classic disco is played.  Then there was the peculiar disco-oriented album released in 1977 by poet Rod McKuen called Slide ... Easy In.  Because of the album's cover art, many in gay circles referred to it as the "Crisco Disco album".




So, in closing, if you innocently mention Crisco in a social gathering or at a business presentation and hear snickering, there's a good chance that some gay men are in your midst. 



Why Do Gay Men Embrace "The Wizard of Oz"?

Wizard_of_oz_posterChildren are captivated by The Wizard of Oz, and not just those destined to be gay - although it does hold a special place in the hearts of many gay men.  But from research I've done on the subject I've learned that it took a while before gay men embraced the movie, and it was largely due to their idolization of the movie's supremely talented, and ultimately tormented, Judy Garland.


Germany_invades_polandIt's ironic that this flight of fantasy opened in theaters on August 25, 1939, one week before Germany invaded Poland, setting the stage for the grim reality of World War II.  Another irony is that WWII brought together so many men in close quarters for the first time - and it's where many, based on first person accounts, had their first homosexual experiences.


So what gives The Wizard of Oz its gay sensibility?  The following items I've listed are based on today's sensibilities, but they had no such resonance when the movie first appeared. 

  • Dorothy's ruby slippers
  • Glinda the Good Witch's arrival in her bubble
  • The fashionable floorlength shearling coats worn by the storm troopers guarding the Wicked Witch's castle
  • The Enchanted Forest, which is what Fire Island's Meat Rack is sometimes referred to
  • Dorothy's non-traditional family of the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion
  • Oz, a metaphor for New York City? (the skyline suggests it)  
  • Judy!!!


Theres_no_place_like_homeInterestingly, despite all of the above, Judy's mantra of "there's no place like home" doesn't ring true for many gays because it's likely that their hometown is the place they chose to escape.    

World-Renowned La Scala Opera House Opens (August 3, 1778)



The most entrenched gay stereotypes may be the "opera buff", "show tune queen" and "disco bunny".  And while I've previously written posts about Broadway shows and dance music I haven't written anything on the world of opera - until now.  So I'll start at the top by paying tribute to the world-renowned La Scala in Milan, which opened its doors on August 3, 1778.  




Teatro alla Scala is considered the world's most famous opera house, followed by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York  (opened in 1966); Australia's Sydney Opera House (1973); London's Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (1858); and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (1825).  Other famous houses are in Paris, Vienna, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Vienna.  There's also the Santa Fe Opera Theater which is known for its open-air design (and where I saw Rigoletto in August 2008).    


Of course, all of the legends have performed at La Scala, including Enrico Caruso, who made his La Scala debut in 1900; Maria Callas (far left) in 1951; Joan Sutherland in 1961; Pavarotti in 1965; and Beverly Sills (center) in 1969.  In 2007 sexy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez (near left), whose La Scala debut was in 1996, was called back for the first encore there in 74 years.  Famous operas that had their premieres at La Scala include Bellini's Norma (1831); Verdi's Falstaff (1893) and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (1904).



Maria_callas Beverlysills Juandiegoflorez 


Writing about La Scala brings to mind the sensual, and sensational, 2010 movie I Am Love, starring gay favorite Tilda Swinton.  Set in Milan, it has a sweeping, operatic-like score that's very fitting, especially for the film's dramatic, over-the-top ending.  It's worth renting.





Gay Writer-Activist Larry Kramer Born (June 25, 1935)

Larrykramer_closeup Say the name Larry Kramer and many of us (hopefully) can easily rattle off some of his accomplishments: the novel Faggots; the movie Women in Love; organizing GMHC; founder of ACT UP; the AIDS drama The Normal Heart.  He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on June 25, 1935.  It seems fitting that the Stonewall uprising occurred right around the time of his birthday (in the year he turned 34) and that Gay Pride Week events take place around it every year. 



Like the late Arthur Laurents, who died in 2011, Kramer has a reputation for being "difficult".  He was ousted from GMHC; he railed at his alma mater Yale University for turning down his offer to fund a chair in Gay Studies; and he fumed at Barbra Streisand for not following through on her plans to make The Normal Heart into a movie.  He's alienated many with his in-your-face style (the personification of an e-mail typed entirely in caps) - but where would we be without this squeaky wheel?  Knowing of his temperament it was a bit of a surprise that he was so gracious upon accepting the Tony Award in 2012 for The Normal Heart as Best Revival of a Play.  




For more than 30 years years Kramer had been laboring on a semi-fictional work about US history (reportedly 4,000 pages in length) titled The American People.  In it he shines a lavender light on our nation's history, e.g. discussing various historical figures he claims were gay (i.e., George Washington, Abraham Lincoln).  Volume One (which goes through the 1950s) was finally published in 2015 to mixed reviews.  And five years later he published The American People: Vol. 2: The Brutality of Fact: A Novel.




Bottom line, ruffling feathers (or boas) for speaking his mind, Larry Kramer's passion and commitment to gay men has been invaluable in bettering our lives.  (After years of poor health, Kramer died on May 27, 2020, one month before his 85th birthday.)






The Swift Downfall of Oscar Wilde (May 25, 1895)

Oscar_wilde In the winter of 1895 Irish playwright Oscar Wilde had perhaps his greatest artistic triumph when his comedy The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London to great acclaim.  But just three months later, on May 25, 1895, the married father of two was found guilty of "gross indecency" with another man and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison.  Sadly, he largely brought this misfortune upon himself.  He had sued his male lover's father for libel (after referring to Wilde as a "sodomite" on a calling card), but midway through the trial thought it best to withdrawal the charges.  However, by then too many incriminating things had been said by Wilde and he was brought up on morals charges - and convicted. 



It's unfortunate that Wilde's hubris blinded him to the fact that Victorian England was far from ready to overlook his licentious behavior, regardless of his fame.  After his two-year sentence was completed he moved to France where he died a few years later at the age of 46, largely penniless and with few friends. 


In 2018 British actor Rupert Everett directed, wrote and starred in the movie The Happy Prince, which told the story of the last few years of Wilde's life after he was released from prison.  The film was a labor of love as the handsome Everett took on the diminished, paunchy appearance of Wilde in his last years.  (Ironically, Everett is thirteen years older than Wilde was at the time of his death.)


Rupert everett_the happy prince

Disco Diva Grace Jones Born (May 19, 1948)

Gracejones_warhol 30 years before Lady Gaga, Grace Jones was making herself known with her striking presence, outrageous fashion sense, distinct singing voice and inventive performance videos.   Born and raised in Jamaica (birth name: Grace Mendoza), she moved with her family to the snow belt city of Syracuse, New York state when she was in her teens.  Before becoming a singer she was a model who became part of Andy Warhol's glam circle.  To me, she resembles an Amazonian version of Eartha Kitt.  At the height of her fame, Grace gave birth to a son, Paulo, who is now 38 (as of April 2018). 






Every year between 1977 and 1982 Grace released an album (and ten overall), but none became big commercial hits.  Her highest charting LP, 1981's Nightclubbing, made it only to #32 on Billboard's album chart.  However, songs such as I Need a Man (her first); Do or Die; and Pull up to the Bumper were big club hits.  Besides those, other favorites of mine include La Vie en Rose; Nipple to the Bottle; Unlimited Capacity for Love; and Slave to the Rhythm.  Her music style was hard to categorize - a bit disco, a bit new wave, a bit R&B.






In the 1980s, her Warhol years behind her, she tested her mainstream appeal by appearing in action movies such as Conan the Destroyer and was cast as the villain in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.  She also appeared in TV and print ads for Honda scooters. 







Update: In time for her 70th birthday, a well-received documentary about Grace was released in April 2018 titled Bloodlight and Bami. And although it had very limited distribution it did well in the few markets where it screened.


Grace jones - bloodlight and bami

First Tony Awards Handed Out (April 6, 1947)

T_artifacts_0530_pic15724 Eighteen years after the film industry handed out its first Oscars the Broadway theater community held its first Tony Awards (short for the "Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre").  The ceremony was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the evening of April 6, 1947, which was Easter Sunday.  (The Tonys took place every April until 1964 when it moved to late May for one year and then to June every year thereafter.) 


For this first gathering there were two Best Actor and Best Actress awards given for Plays - but none for musicals (however, an award for Featured Actor was given).  Besides winning Tonys the four winning actors were also Oscar winners: 


  • Jose_ferrer_cyranodebergerac Jose Ferrer won for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac.  Three years later the play was made into a movie and he won an Oscar for the role. 
  • Fredric March won the other Best Actor Tony for Years Ago.  He'd win another Tony 10 years later for Long Day's Journey Into Night.    
  • Helen Hayes won the Tony for Happy Birthday.  She'd collect another Tony and two Oscars, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Grammy during her career.
  • Ingrid_bergman_joanoflorraine Known mostly as a movie actress (she won three Oscars), Ingrid Bergman won the Tony for her role in Joan of Lorraine.  The play was the basis for the 1948 movie Joan of Arc, which Bergman also starred in.  Nominated for an Oscar, she lost to Jane Wyman who won for Johnny Belinda.


David Wayne won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing the role of the leprechaun Og in Finian's Rainbow.  Elia Kazan won Best Director for All My Sons.  Interestingly, in this first year there was no award for Best Play or Best Musical.


115_Tony_Awards_1st_Ceremony-1947_04-06 Beginning in 1956 the show was broadcast on TV in the New York market; it wasn't picked up by a TV network until 1967 when ABC aired it.  The audience for the Tonys is only about one-fifth the size of the audience that watches the Academy Awards

Author John Rechy Born (March 10, 1934)

John_rechy Gay author John Rechy was born in El Paso, Texas on March 10, 1934.  He's written more than a dozen novels, with perhaps the best known being City of Night (1963), Numbers (1967) and The Sexual Outlaw (1977).  His stories tell of the loneliness and desparation lived by street hustlers, the secret liasions of closeted men and the discrimination practiced against homosexuals - all pioneering themes for their time.  


Pattee_Library_PennState I have an amusing story to share about Rechy's novel City of Night.  It was Fall 1977, I was starting my junior year at Penn State and in the early stages of coming out.  I went to Pattee Library (pictured) on main campus at University Park to see if they carried Rechy's book.  They did, but, curiously, it was kept in the section of the library called "Special Collections". 


That's right, because of its subject matter Rechy's book wasn't considered suitable for the "open stacks", but instead was stored with invaluable one-of-a-kind historical documents such as antique maps, a 15th Century Hebrew bible and 200-year old manuscripts by the likes of William Penn!  However, unlike these treasures, which couldn't be taken out of the library, I was able to do so with City of Night - but for just three days (and I was required to fill out a release form). 


Numbers_john_rechy City_of_night The_sexual_outlaw At the time I didn't question it as I was just happy to take the damn book out.  But that's when I came to the realization that college wasn't necessarily the bastion of liberalism and free thinking I always assumed.  Nestled in central Pennsylvania, University Park was insulated from the "real world" (I guess why that's why it's called Happy Valley) - and this incident really drove home that point.  35 years later I hope Rechy's book (and many others like it) has found its way to the "open stacks"


Broadway Legend Tommy Tune Born (February 28, 1939)

Tommytune Today in 1939 tap dancer/choreographer/director Tommy Tune was born in the north-central Texas town of Wichita Falls.  Of twenty-four persons of note born there (according to Wikipedia) Tune is probably the most famous (followed by TV actress Phylllis Coates who played the original Lois Lane on the Adventures of Superman).  Perhaps Tune's destiny as a Broadway legend was determined by his name (yes, that's his actual last name).  Besides the name, what's also given him distinction is his height - 6'6-1/2".



Tommy_tune When I was in high school I remember watching Tommy give his acceptance speech for his first Tony Award in 1974 for Seesaw (he's won nine in total).  It was memorable because he made a cutting remark about the folks from his hometown and said it was doubtful anyone there was likely to be watching anyway.  It was probably a relatable moment for many gay men and lesbians who also felt out of place while growing up.  (Tune's 1997 memoir Footnotes is available on Amazon.)  


Dayinhollywood_nightintheukraine Myoneandonly I saw a number of shows that TT won Tony's for - A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (which I saw on New Year's Eve 1980) and Grand Hotel.  I always wanted to see him and Twiggy in My One & Only but never got around to it - the cast album is great.  And I didn't see Will Rogers Follies either.   




He built a beachfront home out at Fire Island Pines in the 1970's, and although he no longer owns it residents there still refer to it as the Tommy Tune house (the way property owned by Calvin Klein still bears his name).


Tune shares his birthday with two other show business legends - movie director (and Liza's dad) Vincente Minnelli (1903-1986) and Broadway favorite Bernadette Peters (born in 1948).