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Some Favorite Christmas Songs From A Gay Baby Boomer's Point of View

Merry gay christmas

 

A few days ago I came across a post on Billboard.com titled 15 LGBTQ Songs for a Holiday Kiki.  It was a fun read, and there were even a few songs I knew, but for the most part it was created with young gays in mind.  And to be honest, from my silver-haired perspective, most of the songs didn't have a very Christmas-y vibe and were often tacky or a bit sleazy.  This inspired me to draw up my own list, reflecting the sensibility of a Gay Baby Boomer.  My selections range across eras, from the mid-1940s all the way to the 21st century; some of the artists are gay, others are gay icons of my generation.  The songs are a mix of standards and musical styles, with a twist of camp thrown in.  Here they are, in no particular order ...

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, DARLING - The Carpenters (1970)

I was in 8th grade when this song was released, and like many gay boys of my generation I fell in love with Karen Carpenter's voice.  In the course of four months at the end of 1970 the Carpenters released Close to You, We've Only Just Begun and then this beauty.  To this day I still find myself replaying the end of the song, with its beautiful layering of voices.  Category: Icon

 

The carpenters at christmas

 

 

JOY TO THE WORLD - Joan Sutherland (1965)

Soprano Sutherland's bombastic delivery suits this grand song like a red-velvet glove.  Julie Andrews also has a beautiful, more delicate rendition of this song.  Category: Icon (of Opera Queens). 

 

Joan sutherland joy to the world

 

 

JINGLE BELLS - Jim Nabors (1970)

Nabors' hearty baritone gives this lightweight chestnut a unique (and amusing) power. Category:  Gay performer (RIP)

 

Jim nabors christmas album

 

 

STEP INTO CHRISTMAS - Elton John (1974)

This is the only rocker on my list.  Category: Gay performer

 

Elton john step into christmas

 

 

MY FAVORITE THINGS - The Supremes (1965)

A nice use of sleigh bells in the background.  Category: Icons

 

The supremes christmas album

 

 

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS - Judy Garland (1944)

This song is from the movie Meet Me In St. Louis.  Another classic Judy Christmas memory is the Christmas telecast of her eponymous variety series from 1963-64.  Category: Icon

 

Judy garland - have yourself a merry little christmas

 

 

LAST CHRISTMAS - Wham! (1986)

A beautiful, adult-oriented classic.  Sadly, 2017 was the first Christmas season without George Michael, who died last Christmas (no pun intended).  And while the song is very pretty, its accompanying video is awful (as most '80s videos are); still, it's been viewed more than 300 million times.  Category: Gay performer (RIP)

 

Lastchristmas

 

 

JOY TO THE WORLD - Whitney Houston (1996)

This version is from the movie The Preacher's Wife, which starred Houston.  Category: Icon (RIP)

 

Whitney joy to the world

 

 

SANTA BABY - Madonna (1987)

While Eartha Kitt's version from the early 1950s is certainly a hoot, Madonna's has a processed smoothness along with her Betty Boop voice.  Category: Fading Icon

 

Madonna___santa_baby_by_rymc730-das2lmd.png

 

 

HAPPY HOLIDAY - Peggy Lee (1960)

This has Miss Peggy Lee's signature cool jazz styling.  Category: Camp

 

Peggy lee christmas

 

 

CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE - Billy Porter (2001)

Porter appeared on this benefit CD twelve years before he won the Tony for Best Actor for his performance in the musical Kinky Boots.  (Unfortunately, I could find no YouTube link.)  Category: Gay performer

 

Broadway cares - home for the holidays cd

 

 

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS - Cast from Glee (2010)

This is upbeat, fun version from the TV show, Glee, first appeared in the Broadway production of Mame, starring Angela Lansbury, in 1966.  And Lucille Ball played Mame in the 1974 movie (the 1958 movie with Rosalind Russell, titled Auntie Mame, wasn't a musical).  Category: Iconic TV series

 

Lucille ball as mame

 

 

THE CHRISTMAS SONG - Donna Summer (1994)

This is a beautiful version, especially the plaintive piano ending, which brings to mind the beginning of Summer's Last DanceCategory: Vilified Icon

 

Donna summer - the christmas song

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL - Denise Montana & the Salsoul Orchestra (1976)

This selection has a very chill vibe - very urban gay.  Category: Tom Ford

 

Salsoul christmas jollies

 

 

WINTER WONDERLAND - The Andrew Sisters w/Guy Lombardo & Orchestra (1946)

This version was featured in The Polar Express, and played in the vast emptiness of the North Pole gift operation, which gave off a reverb-effect sound quality, which is different from its original version.  Category: Camp

 

Andrew sister - winter wonderland

 

 

IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR - Diana Ross (1993)

This performance aired during the 1993 PBS holiday special, Christmas in Vienna (other years featured Natalie Cole and Kiri Te Kanawa).  Ross looks exquisite.  This is a great song made even better by her breathless delivery.  Category: Icon

 

 

Diana ross - christmas in vienna

 

 

KISSING BY THE MISTLETOE - Aretha Franklin (1962)

A fun song from the very early years before Aretha's rise to Queen of Soul-dom (she was 20).  Category: Icon

 

Mistletoe - gay kiss

 

 

THE MAN WITH THE BAG - Kay Starr (1953)

No, she's not talking about condoms (or perhaps she is and I was too dim to catch the secondary meaning).  This song has a great, upbeat Big Band-ish tempo.  Category: Camp

 

Kay starr The-Man-With-The-Bag

 

 

PAT-A-PAN - David Archuleta (2009)

The adorable Archuleta stole the hearts of girls, their moms and gay boys when he competed on American Idol in 2006 at the age of 16, ultimately finishing second.  Category: Cute as a Bug

 

David archuleta - pat a pan

 

 

And not one of these selections included the song with the lyric, "Don we now our gay apparel"!

 

Here are links to a few more Christmas-themed posts:

The Hunks of TV's Cheesy Christmas Movies

"The Land of Misfit Toys" - An Early Gay Anthem?

What Makes the Yuletide Gay

K-Mart's Charmingly Risque Christmas Ad

Bette Midler Stars in Christmas-Themed Holiday Ad

 

 


Tears Over the Death of Princess Diana (August 31, 1997)

Princess Diana's life was cut tragically short when she was killed in an auto accident in Paris late Saturday night on Aug. 31, 1997.  She was only 36 years old.  And although we're not British subjects, her death cast a pall over Labor Day weekend here in the U.S.  Indeed, grief over Diana's death reverberated throughout the world.

 

Dianas_coffin 

 

Diana was especially beloved by the gay community because of her AIDS charity work.  Ten years before her death she visited a newly opened shelter for gay men with AIDS and shook their hands - the first high profile celebrity not afraid to touch AIDS victims.  She further endeared herself to gay men because of her sense of style and the ability to rise above the adversity she encountered while married to Prince Charles.

 

Diana_with_aids_patients 

 

The Pet Shop Boys wrote a beautiful, dirge-like song (with a beat) called Dreaming of the Queen.  It tells of a dream in which Queen Elizabeth and Diana discuss, over a spot of tea, the futility of love.  It was from PSB's album Very which was released four years before Diana's death.  In 2000 I saw the Pet Shop Boys in concert at Radio City Music Hall where I saw them perform this song.  Behind them on stage was a video showing the hearse bearing Diana's coffin, its windshield wipers famously working overtime to clear flowers thrown by the millions along the funeral route.   

 

Petshopboys_dreamingofthequeen 

 

(I was spending Labor Day weekend out in Fire Island when I heard the news about Diana's death.  I've written a blog post about what I remember of that night on my history blog "History As You Experienced It".)

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An Appreciation of Bette Midler

 

Bette midler 1970s

 

Although I wouldn't call myself a devout fan, there's a soft spot in my heart for Bette Midler, a powerhouse of talent whose music, movies and TV appearances I've long enjoyed.  (Truth be told, I was also never a rabid fan of Judy, Marilyn, Liza, Barbra or Cher).  I wasn't yet living in New York during her Continental Baths years, never saw her perform live in concert, nor did I see The Rose or Beaches, but over a career that's spanned five decades I've had my share of exposure to her prolific creative output.  I'm happy she's had such a successful and enduring career (some might even refer to it as "divine").  Now, with her triumphant starring role in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, this seems a perfect time to salute her through my memories.

 

Bette midler hello dolly
In "Hello, Dolly!"

 

FAVORITE SONGS

My playlist is comprised of songs that were released between 1972-1977 and 1988-1992.  But nothing after 2000.

  • Friends (1972, The Divine Miss M) - Listening to it now, I find the line, "I had some friends but they're gone, someone came and took them away," chilling, since 10 years after the album was released this verse would hit home for many of us as the ravages of AIDS began decimating the gay community.  

 

Bette midler - divine miss m
Her first album

 

  • Do You Want to Dance? (1972, The Divine Miss M) - This was Bette's first song to enter the Billboard Hot 40.  I bought it as a single.  In the late 1980s Bette sued the Ford Motor Co. when it used a singer with a voice very similar to hers in a TV commercial.  A district court ruled against her but an appeals court overturned that decision.
  • Twisted (1973, Bette Midler) - A brassy cover of a song first released in 1952, the following year it was one of the tracks on Joni Mitchell's album Court and Spark.
  • I Shall be Released and Higher and Higher (1973, Bette Midler) - Both start out quietly, then build to a roar.
  • Strangers in the Night (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Remake of Frank Sinatra's classic, but with more pizazz.
  • Old Cape Cod (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - A cover of a song from the late '50s which Patti Page made famous.  When I'd walk at night in Provincetown on a moonlit night I'd have Bette's version playing in my head.

 

Provincetown - captain jacks wharf
Captain Jack's Wharf in Provincetown, a place I stayed a number of times when I vacationed in P-town.

 

  • Tragedy (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Not to be confused with the Bee Gees disco hit by the same name, this is beautiful, plaintive song.
  • Yellow Beach Umbrella (Broken Blossom, 1977) - This one always makes me think of the Club Baths, where I first heard this tune.  And it was perfect in that setting with lyrics that suggested anonymous encounters, such as "and nobody there will ever know me well", "gonna be a mystery to everyone", and "nobody there will ever find out who I am".  The song was previously recorded by Perry Como, Andy Williams and Three Dog Night, which I found very peculiar because the song has such a female vibe to it.

 

Bette_Midler_-_Broken_Blossom

  • The Wind Beneath My Wings (1988) - Schmaltzy as hell but I always loved it, and I liked its beautiful music video as well.  It was Bette's only chart topper.  Three years before she made it an overplayed smash I bought a 12-inch dance version by a group called Menage

 

Bette midler - the wind beneath my wings
Performing the song at the 2014 Academy Awards

 

  • Miss Otis Regrets (1990, Some People's Lives) - Written by Cole Porter in 1934, Bette revisits the genre that was her trademark early in her career.
  • From A Distance (1991) - Brings back memories of the first Gulf War.  It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Stuff Like That There and Billy-A-Dick (1991) - From the movie For the Boys, both songs were written during WWII, bringing Bette back to her roots when she was identified with tunes like the Andrew Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Glenn Miller's In the Mood.

 

Bette midler - for the boys
"For the Boys"
  • Ukulele Lady (1998, Bathhouse Betty) - A perfect, quirky with a retro feel to it that is vintage Bette.
  • In These Shoes? (2000, Bette) - This is a cover of a song by the late Kirsty MacColl from her 1996 album.

 

MOVIES I'VE SEEN

She's appeared in more than two dozen movies but I've only seen a handful: Big Business (1988, with Lily Tomlin); Ruthless People (1986, with Danny DeVito); Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986, with Richard Dreyfus); Outrageous Fortune (1987, with Shelly Long) and For the Boys (1991, with James Caan).

 

Bette midler - down and out in beverly hills
"Down & Out in Beverly Hills"

 

TV SHOWS, MAGAZINES, ETC.

She guest-starred on Cher's CBS special (Feb. 12, 1975) along with Elton John.  This was one of the pop culture highlights of my senior year in high school.

 

Bette midler - 1975 cher special

 

In People Magazine's June 30, 1975 cover story, there was a photo of Bette planting flowers in front of her brownstone on Barrow St. (the block off Seventh Ave. South).  I live near this street and think of this photo every time I walk on that block.

 

Bette midler - people magazine

 

A great Vanity Fair cover as well as an amusing photo spread inside the issue (Dec. 1991).

 

Bette midler - vanity fair

Midler_vf

Bette midler - vanity fair mowing lawn

 

Serenaded Johnny Carson (May 21, 1992).  Perhaps the highlight of Johnny Carson's last week hosting the Tonight Show was Bette hopping on his desk and singing You Made Me Watch You.  This affection was sincere since Carson launched her career when she appeared on his show for the first time in the summer of 1970 (however, her first national exposure was earlier that year on the much less popular David Frost Show). 

 

Bette midler - johnny carson

 

Starred in the TV version of the musical Gypsy (Dec. 12, 1993).  It took 10 years of cajoling before the show's late creator, Arthur Laurents, agreed to allow the  project to go forward.  The telecast was the fourth most popular show of the week and it won Bette a Golden Globe (but no Emmy).  Sadly, the movie's director, Emile Ardolino, died from AIDS complications the week before the movie was telecast.

 

Bette midler - mama rose in gypsy

 

Appeared in an episode of Seinfeld (May 18, 1995).  Playing herself, she's injured after Jerry slides into her at a charity softball game (his girlfriend is Bette's understudy in a musical called Rochelle, Rochelle).  While recuperating in the hospital Kramer decides to take care of her, and presents here with a tiny likeness of herself made out of macaroni ("macaroni Midler").

 

Bette midler - seinfeld

 

Her love of nature and the people of New York City was the impetus behind the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit that Bette founded in July 1995.  It has championed neglected community parks throughout the City, restoring them through clean-ups and the planting of trees and greenery.

 

Bette midler - new york restoration project

 

Starred in a CBS sitcom in 2000-01 titled Bette.  (In the pilot episode her daughter was played by 13-year-old Lindsay Lohan.)  Unfortunately, this show was not a hit, and it's since been used as a prime example of how a big name doesn't necessarily mean a show will be a success with viewers.

 

Bette midler - cbs sitcom

 

During the 2011 holiday season Bette was featured in a commercial for the Honda Acura as an over-the-top Christmas caroler.

 

Bette midler - honda ad

 

Finally, the Caricatures ...

Bette_midler_risko
Artist: Robert Risko

 

Bette midler - al hirschfeld caricature
Artist: Al Hirschfeld

 

Bette midler - david coles caricature
Artist: David Coles

 

And if the 22 images in this post leave you wanting more, try the 2000+ images on this Pinterest page devoted to the Divine Miss M.

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Documentary Explores High Hopes, Crushing Disappointment of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Merrily-playbill Best worst thing

 

In the spring of 1981 I read an article in TIME Magazine that enthusiastically reported on a collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince for the show Merrily We Roll Along.  Since I was still gaining my bearings as a young, single, gay man in New York I lost track of the show's progress, but the positive tone of the article stayed with me.  Years later I discovered that it was a huge flop, closing after just sixteen performances.  The show's trajectory is the subject of the documentary The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, which I recently saw at the IFC in Greenwich Village (just one of three theaters nationwide where it played).  It was directed by one of the three actors with a lead role in the show.  It's a touching film, capturing the giddy excitement of the young cast (who were between the ages of 16 and 24), followed by their crushing disappointment

 

Merrily we roll along_hal prince stephen sondheim
When "Merrily We Roll Along" was in development, Hal Prince was 52 and Stephen Sondheim was 50.

 

I was surprised to learn that Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame was in the show's original cast (and he'd win a Tony Award in 1990 for Jerome Robbins' Broadway, just as his TV fame was beginning).  The show was also where singer/cabaret icon Liz Callaway made her debut (at the age of 20).  And perhaps most interestingly, the documentary included interviews with the original lead, who was replaced during previews.  He was very gracious and now owns a talent agency.  (And according to the IMDB database he's had no other acting credits since, except for the 1981 movie Senior Trip.)

 

Original cast of merrily we roll along
The original three leads (from left): James Weissenbach, Ann Morrison and Lonny Price (who directed the documentary).

 

Cast change merrily we roll along
And with Weissenbach's replacement, Jim Walton

 

In 2000 I finally got around to buying the cast CD (which was recorded the day after the show's closing).  I was surprised to discover three songs I was already familiar with: Good Thing Going; Not a Day Goes By (first heard on Carly Simon's album, Torch); and Our Time (which I heard sung by the NYC Gay Men's Chorus).  Then in the winter of 2012 I saw a City Center Encores! production of the musical, and although I struggled during the first half hour or so, I became more engaged as the show went on.  (One of the main characters was played by Lin-Manuel Miranda.)  After seeing it I could understand why the show might have been off-putting to audiences as its themes of youthful ambition thwarted, lofty ideals compromised and friendships ended may have hit too close to home for many.  However, since its initial rejection by audiences, the show has been embraced by a an ever expanding group of appreciative theatergoers.

 

Lin manuel miranda in merrily we roll along
2012 City Center Encores cast, with Lin-Manuel Miranda (second from right).

    

Watching the documentary I thought back to my life in 1981, when I was the same age as some of the older cast members.  1981 was my third year working in New York, and the year I moved into Manhattan - first into a loft in TriBeCa (which was yet to be a chic neighborhood), and three months later to the West Village.  During Memorial Day weekend I visited Fire Island for the first time; another first came a few weeks later when I went to the hot new dance club, the Saint.  Later that summer I left my first job and went to work at the powerhouse ad agency, Young & Rubicam.  (At the time I didn't know that a few of the men I worked with were gay).  Then in November, a few weeks before Merrily had its opening, I met (at Uncle Charlie's bar in Greenwich Village) the man who I would have my the deepest relationship with. Finally, 1981 was also the year that the scourge that would become known as AIDS began to get news coverage. 

 

Double click here for a nice write up about the show's heritage.

 

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Charles Busch Pays Tribute to the Leading Ladies of Cabaret

Recently I attended a one-night-only performance by Charles Busch, which was part of Jazz at Lincoln Center's American Songbook series.  The show, titled "The Lady at the Mic", celebrated the repertoire of Julie Wilson, Elaine Stritch, Mary Cleere Haran and Polly Bergen (and Joan Rivers was thrown in for good measure). 

 

CharlesBusch.Glen Hanson drawing

 

First, the positives:

  • Charles Busch - I love his stories and his female persona.  He conveys warmth and graciousness, with little of the crassness or bitchiness that is so often part of the routine of men who perform in drag.
  • The Venue - This was my first time at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Room (in the Time Warner Center).  Rather than there being a wall behind the stage, there's a huge window that looks out onto Central Park South and 59th St., which is a pretty spectacular view.

 

Appelroom.jazzlincolncenter

 

  • Tom Judson - Busch's accompanist of the past four years, Judson is talented and sexy - even more so after I looked him up on Google Images.  Wow, how did he escape my attention all these years (similar to the reaction I had last year about singer-songwriter Matt Alber)?

 

Charlesbusch.tomjudson

 

Now, the negatives:

  • Charles Busch - Singing is not Busch's strength, at least not tonight.  Perhaps he had a cold since his voice was a bit ragged and he couldn't hit the high notes.  Thankfully, probably well aware of his limitations, his set was interspersed with his witty repartee and Tom Judson's contributions, so his singing was tolerable.  Also, during some of the less inspired songs my mind would drift as I gazed out at the cityscape stretching out behind the stage.
  • The Venue - Although the physical space is aesthetically pleasing, the seats were squashed together.  The seats themselves were chair-stools, so your feet couldn't touch the ground (even those of us who are six feet tall), which became a bit uncomfortable after about 10 minutes.  Also, the seats weren't very wide.  I've been more comfortable flying coach.
  •  Tom Judson - After the photos I saw on Google Images, it was a disappointment that he wasn't shirtless.

 

Tomjudson.shirtless

 

Nonetheless, the positives outweighed the negatives, and, anyway, an evening spent with Charles Busch is an entertaining one, so I went home with a smile.


Saluting The Kennedy Center Honors' Roster of Gay Inductees

Kennedy center honorsLike the Academy Awards and Tony Awards, a considerable number of gay men have an affinity for the Kennedy Center Honors because of its celebration of personalities in the performing arts.  Since the first awards were handed out in 1978 a steady stream of accomplished gay men have been chosen as honorees.  However, not until 2015 year was a self-proclaimed lesbian awarded the honor - Lily Tomlin.  (But rumored lesbians such as Mary Martin, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and Dolly Parton have been honored).  The ceremony takes place in early December, with the President and First Lady in attendance (the exception has been Trump and Melania); the telecast of the event usually airs a few days after Christmas on CBS.  Interestingly, the colors of the award's sash are those of the rainbow flag.  In 2002 DC's Gay Men's Chorus performed as part of the tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.

 

Lily.tomlin
2014 honoree, Lily Tomlin

   

23 of the 213 recipients (through 2019) have been gay.  In four of the years there were two gay inductees: 1979, 1986, 1993 and 2010.  (In 1989 Claudette Colbert and Mary Martin were honorees).  The longest stretch in which no gay honorees were named was the five years between 2005-2009 (this drought might be matched next year depending on 2019's announcement).  Conversely, between 1979 and 1988 every year but one (1989) had a gay recipient.   

 

GAY HONOREES   

To be considered, a candidate must be living at the time of their induction.  Of the 23 gay honorees (listed below), eight are still alive.  The first gay honorees were Aaron Copland and Tennessee Williams in 1979.  One glaring oversight was playwright and director Arthur Laurents (who died in 2011 at the age of 93).  Perhaps it was because of his prickly personality?

 

Bill.t.jones.kennedy.center.honors
Bill T. Jones

 

Aaron Copland (1979) - composer (died in 1990, age 90)

Tennessee Williams (1979) - novelist (died in 1983, age 73)

Leonard Bernstein (1980) - composer/conductor (died in 1990, age 72)

Jerome Robbins (1981) - choreographer (died in 1998, age 79)

Virgil Thomson (1982) - composer (died in 1989, age 92)

Gian Carlo Menotti (1984) - conductor/composer (died in 2007, age 95)

Frederick Loewe (1985) – lyricist (died in 1988, age 86)

Merce Cunningham (1986) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2009, age 90)

Antony Tudor (1986) - ballet choreographer (died in 1987, age 79)

Alwin Nikolais (1987) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1993, age 82)

Alvin Ailey (1988) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1989, age 58)

Stephen Sondheim (1993) - composer/lyricist (born in 1930)

Arthur Mitchell (1993) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2018, age 84)

Edward Albee (1996) - playwright (died in 2016, age 88)

Fred Ebb & John Kander (1998) - lyricists (Ebb died in 2004, age 76; Kander is still alive, born in 1927)

Van Cliburn (2001) - pianist (died in 2013, age 78)

James Levine (2002) - conductor (born in 1943)

Elton John (2004) - singer/composer/pianist (born in 1947)

Bill T Jones (2010) - dancer/choreographer (born in 1952)

Jerry Herman (2010) - lyricist and composer (died in 2019, age 88)

Lily Tomlin (2014) - actress/comedian (born in 1939)

Michael Tilson Thomas (2019) - conductor, pianist and composer (born in 1944)

 

Michael tilson thomas

 

Other lesbians worthy of consideration for future induction may include Jodie Foster, Cherry Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Cynthia Nixon. And Johnny Mathis, Terrence McNally, Tommy Tune and Richard Chamberlain are worthy candidates on the gay male side.  

 

GAY ICONS/DIVAS

Although not gay themselves, sixteen recipients, all women, have the distinction of being gay icons.  The most recent was Cher, in 2018.  Another icon, Maria Callas, likely would have been honored but she died the year before the first Kennedy Center Honors (at the very young age of 53).

 

Barbra.streisand.kennedycenterhonors

Ella Fitzgerald (1979)

Martha Graham (1979)

Leontyne Price (1980)

Lucille Ball (1986)

Bette Davis (1987)

Katharine Hepburn (1990)

Aretha Franklin (1994)

Judith Jamison (1999)

Angela Lansbury (2000)

Chita Rivera (2002)

Elizabeth Taylor (2002)

Dolly Parton (2006)

Diana Ross (2007)

Barbra Streisand (2008)

Barbara Cook (2011)

Cher (2018)

 

Kennedycenterhonors.cbs


Remembering Our Gay Ancestors

Barbara.jordan2Truman.capoteFour years ago I wrote a post about popular LGBT personalities, and another about gay icons over the age of 75.  This latest post provides an overview of accomplished gay men and lesbians who are no longer with us.  I've drawn up a list of just over 250 individuals who've made their mark in their respective professions.  Of them, about two-thirds were open about their sexual orientation. (Please note that this post was published in 2014.)

 

The median age of these gay pioneers at the time of their death was 63.  Taking out the 20% who died of AIDS (at a median age of 45), the median age of those who died from other other causes rises to a still relatively young 68.  The oldest, architect Philip Johnson (in photo below) was 98 when he died in 2005.  Del Martin and Mabel Hampton were the oldest lesbians, both 87 at the time of their deaths in 2008 and 1989, respectively.  The youngest person on the list is Pedro Zamora, a cast member of MTV's The Real World, who died from AIDS at the age of 22.  He's followed by actor James Dean who was 24 when he was killed in a car accident.  The woman who was youngest at the time of her death was Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote Raisin in the Sun.  She was 34.

 

Architecture-+-Infulence-a-short-film-on-the-work-of-Philip-Johnson-image

 

GAY PERSONALITIES WHO LIVED PAST 90
    Age
Philip Johnson Architect 98
John Gielgud Actor 96
Gian Carlo Menotti Composer/Conductor 95
Paul Cadmus Artist 95
Arthur Laurents Playwright 93
Bunny Breckinridge Actor & Drag Queen 93
Horst P. Horst Fashion Photographer 93
Michael Tippett Composer 93
Van Johnson Actor 92
Virgil Thomson Composer 92
EM Forster Author 91
M. Somerset Maugham Playwright/Novelist 91
Aaron Copland Composer 90
Harry Hay Gay Rights Activist 90
Merce Cunningham Dancer/Choreographer 90
Quentin Crisp Writer/Raconteur 90
     
GAY PERSONALITIES WHO DIED BEFORE AGE 40
Jermaine Stewart Singer 39
Willi Smith Fashion Designer 39
Federico Garcia Lorca Poet/Dramatist 38
Larry Levan DJ 38
Michael Callen Songwriter/AIDS Activist 38
Arthur Rimbaud Poet 37
Marlon Riggs Filmmaker 37
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Director/Screenwriter 37
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 36
Sal Mineo Actor 36
Joe Orton Playwright 34
Lorraine Hansbury Playwright  34
Casey Donovan Porn Star 33
Brian Epstein Manager of Beatles 32
David Cole Record Producer 32
Hart Crane Poet, Life Savers heir 32
Patrick Cowley Disco Producer 32
Franz Schubert Composer 31
Keith Haring Urban Artist/Activist 31
Rudolph Valentino Actor 31
James Dean Actor 24
Pedro Zamora Reality Star 22
     

 

Sixty-one persons (about 25% of the total) were born before the 20th century.  The furthest back in time was the Roman emperor Hadrian, followed by Richard the Lionhearted and Henry II.

 

Roman.emperor.hadrian
Roman Emperor Hadrian

 

LGBT ICONS BORN BEFORE 1850
    Born-Died
Hadrain Roman Emperor 76-138
Richard the Lionhearted English King 1157-1199
Edward II King 1284-1327
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor 1452-1519
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 1619-1655
Jean-Baptiste Lully Composer 1632-1687
Arcangelo Corelli Composer/Violinist 1653-1713
Franz Schubert Composer 1797-1828
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist 1803-1882
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Feminist 1815-1902
Henry David Throeau Author, Poet 1817-1862
Walt Whitman Poet 1819-1892
Susan B. Anthony Feminist 1820-1906
Emily Dickinson Poet 1830-1886
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Composer 1840-1893
Henry James Writer 1843-1916

 

Looking at how many search results their names turn up on Google, the median number is 440,000 (note: from the summer of 2014).  Sixty-one generated more than 1 million search results, with Alexander McQueen (pictured below) and Leonardo Da Vinci the top two, well ahead of the rest.  After them, the three others with 5 million or more search results are Oscar Wilde, Divine and Andy WarholFrida Kahlo is the woman with the most, ranked twelfth with 2.8 million.  Sixty-four have fewer than 100,000, with the lowest number being for Mabel Hampton, Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge and drag performer Bunny Breckinridge, all who turned up 7,000.

 

Alexander.mcqueen

 

GAY ICONS WITH MOST GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS
   
Alexander McQueen Fashion Designer
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor
Oscar Wilde Writer/Poet
Divine  Actress
Andy Warhol Artist
Yves Saint Laurent Fashion Designer
James Dean Actor
Freddie Mercury Musician
Sylvester Disco Singer
Christian Dior Fashion Designer
Frida Kahlo Artist
Perry Ellis Fashion Designer
Virginia Woolf Writer
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist
John Gielgud Actor

 

By profession, actors/actresses and authors/novelists have the greatest representation, comprising close to 40% of the total.  Then there are occupations with just one LGBT person associated with them, such as architect (Philip Johnson); mathematician (Alan Turing); chef (James Beard); economist (John Maynard Keynes); marine biologist (Rachel Carson); and astronaut (Sally Ride).

 

Johnmaynardkeynes
Economist John Maynard Keynes

 

TOP PROFESSIONS OF GAY ANCESTORS
     
Actors/Actresses 67 26%
Authors/Novelists 34 13%
Activists (Various Causes) 21 8%
Composers/Songwriters 21 8%
Poets 17 7%
Directors (Movie/B'way/TV) 15 6%
Playwrights 12 5%
Choreographers/Dancers 11 4%
Fashion Designers 10 4%
Singers 9 4%
Artists 7 3%
Athletes 6 2%
Photographers 6 2%

 

Finally, regarding their deaths, more than half died from either AIDS, various forms of cancer or heart attacks.  Additionally, nine were murdered, eight took their own life, seven died in various accidents and two died from drug overdoses.  It should be noted that not everyone who died before they turned 50 died from AIDS as nearly half died from other causes.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


When They Were Young: Gay Heartthrobs From the Past

FaintingBesides being very accomplished in their various professions, some of our gay forebears were also blessed with strikingly good looks (not surprisingly, many were products of Hollywood's star-making machine.)  What follows are those men, in alphabetical order, who turned heads and caused fainting spells when they were in their prime.

 

 

Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972)

Spanish fashion designer whose house of Balenciaga thrived in the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Balenciaga.handsome

 

Alan Bates (1934-2003)

English actor especially known among gay audiences for his homoerotic wrestling scene with Oliver Reed in the 1969 movie Women in Love (whose screenplay was written by none other than Larry Kramer).  In the photo I've chosen I see a little bit of Zac Efron in Bates' facial expression.

 

Alan.bates

 

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Composing and conducting were just two of his many talents.  Somewhat gawky as a young man, Lenny came into his own as a sex symbol as he approached his 40s.  And as an older man he cut quite the dashing figure in his tux while conducting the New York Philharmonic.  In pop culture he's best known for composing the music for West Side Story and his series of Young People's Concerts on CBS.

 

Leonard.bernstein

 

Leonard.bernstein.dashingolder

 

Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

A critically acclaimed (four Oscar nominations), and handsome, actor whose good looks were marred somewhat after a serious car accident in the mid-1950s caused facial scarring.  This was the beginning of a downward spiral that ended with his death ten years later.

 

Montgomery.clift.young

 

Farley Granger (1925-2011)

Actor best known for his starring role in the 1948 Hitchcock movie Rope, which had a gay subtext.  Looked a bit like Eddie Fisher.

 

Farley.granger.young

 

Rock Hudson (1925-1985)

There's eye candy and then there is Eye Candy, and that would be Rock Hudson.  If People Magazine had been around in the 1950s and '60s he probably would have been chosen its Sexiest Man Alive multiple times.

 

Rock.hudson

 

Larry Kert (1930-1991)

Actor, singer and dancer, he's best known for his role as Tony in the Broadway production of West Side Story.  Then in 1970 he replaced Dean Jones in the role of Bobby in Company.  In this photo he somewhat resembles Liam Neeson.

 

Larry.kert

 

Arthur Laurents (1917-2011)

Playwright, stage director and screenwriter best known for West Side Story, Gypsy and La Cage aux Faux.  Had a reputation for being very difficult to work with (ask Patti Lu Pone) and burned many bridges (ask Stephen Sondheim).  This demeanor is probably what kept him alive into his 90s.

 

Arthur.laurents.young

 

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)

Poet and novelist who was executed in the early weeks of the Spanish Civil War.

 

Federico.garcia.lorca2

 

Jean Marais (1913-1998)

French actor (stage and screen), director and sculptor.  Wildly popular in France for his roles as a swashbuckler.  Had a 24-year relationship with novelist/poet Jean Cocteau. 

 

Jean.marais.young

 

Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007)

Not to be confused with Sherwin Williams, Mathews was a B-list actor whose roles ranged from Sinbad the Sailor to Johan Strauss (on the Wonderful World of Disney).  Reminds me of Paul Rudd

 

Kerwin.mathews.young

 

Sal Mineo (1939-1976)

Actor who rose to fame at a young age with roles in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and Exodus before he was 22 years old.  More cute than handsome, he tried to change his image as he got older and directed/starred in a stage production of Fortune and Mens' Eyes.

 

Sal.mineo.swimmingpool

 

George Nader (1921-2002)

Actor who appeared mostly in low-budget movies and TV series.  Perhaps best known for being pals with Rock Hudson, and some suggest they were romantically involved.  The photo below of them together brings to mind the even more famous poolside photo of Cary Grant and "roommate" Randolph Scott.

 

George.nader

 

George.nader.rock.hudson

 

Ramon Novarro (1899-1968)

Actor in the same mold as Rudolph Valentino, who was a contemporary.  (I have an acquaintenance, an accountant, whose name is Ramon Novarro.)

 

Ramon.navarro.young

 

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)

Acclaimed ballet dancer, he defected to the West from Russia when he was 23.  He and porn star/director Michael Lucas look as if they sprang from the same gene pool.

 

Nureyev

 

Al Parker (1952-1992)

The porn superstar of the 1980s, best known for such classics as Oversize Load, Heavy Equipment and Inches.  Not to be confused with '80s disco singer Paul Parker (Right on Target), who's still alive.

 

Al.parker

 

Anthony Perkins (1932-1992)

Boyishly handsome actor best known for his role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.  15 years later in the movie Mahogany he played the possessive/unhinged photographer who discovered Diana Ross's character.  Interestingly, his character's issues with his homosexuality were similar to Perkins' struggles in real life.  

 

Anthony.perkins.young

 

Howard Rollins Jr. (1950-1996)

Dramatic actor best known for his role as Coalhouse Walker in the movie version of Ragtime in 1981.  This was his first movie and he received an Oscar nomination for his role.

 

Howard.rollins.gq

 

Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008)

Although this world-renowned fashion designer wasn't leading-man sexy, he had a boyish appeal when he was first starting out.  Like Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift, St. Laurent's adult life was characterized by mental anguish.

 

Yves.st.laurent2.young

 

Tom Tryon (1926-1991)

Tryon was one of a number of actors I wasn't' familiar with when I began work on this post.  Others were Jean Marais, Kerwin Mathews and George Nader.  In his older years he was the spitting image of Mitt Romney.

 

Tom.tryon

 

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926)

Famed actor who looks very much like Cristobal Balenciaga and Ramon Novarro.  In many of the photos I've come across he's holding a cigarette.  (But he didn't die of lung cancer.)

 

Rudolph.valentino2

 

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

Novelist, essayist, writer of screenplays and an intellectual gadfly, Vidal wrote the novel Myra Breckinridge and created headlines when he and William F. Buckley Jr. got into a heated argument on TV during the 1968 Democratic Convention.  Vidal called Buckley a Nazi and Buckley called Vidal a queer.

 

Gore.vidal.young

 

Finally, some former heartthrobs are still alive, including Richard Chamberlain (80 years old) and Tab Hunter (83).  Of all the names on this list Chamberlain is the one most identified with TV, beginning with Dr. Kildare in the early 1960s.  And Hunter, besides having a movie career, is the only one to have a #1 song, Young Love in 1957.         

 

Richard.chamberlain
Richard Chamberlain

 

Tab.hunter
Tab Hunter

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


LGBT History: A Salute to Our Gay & Lesbian Elders (Age 75+)

Stephen.sondheim Giorgio.armani Edith.windsorThis post celebrates nearly three dozen accomplished gay and lesbian individuals who are at least 75 years of age.  In their formative years, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s, life posed many challenges because of their sexual orientation.  However, they managed to excel in their careers even if it required hiding their true nature.  Most are now open about their orientation and are beacons of inspiration for young LGBTs.  What follows are some top-line findings.  (The list can be found at the end of the post.)

 

  • The oldest of the group is gossip columnist Liz Smith, who is 91, ten days older than director Franco Zeffirelli.  Prolific composer Ned Rorem is 90.  (Deceased gay icons who lived beyond 90 include architect Philip Johnson, who died at 98; actor John Gielgud, who lived to 96; and artist Paul Cadmus, who was 95 when he died in 1999.)
  • Probably the most famous are composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim (84) and fashion designer Giorgio Armani (78).
  • Only four of the thirty-four persons on this list are women: Liz Smith; same-sex marriage activist Edie Windsor (84); director/producer Jane Wagner (79) and author Patricia Nell Warren.
  • Only one person on the list is Black, singer Johnny Mathis (78) and just one is of Asian heritage, actor George Takei.  None are Hispanic (the oldest is Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is 66).

 

Johnny.mathis
Johnny Mathis

 

Edward.albee2
Edward Albee

 

Larry.kramer
Larry Kramer

 

Tommy.tune
Tommy Tune

 

  • This seasoned group has worked in sixteen different occupations, with fashion designers and playwrights represented the most, by four names each.  Arnold Scaasi; Valentino; Karl Lagerfeld; and Giorgio Armani are the designers (all foreign born), while Edward Albee; John Glines; Mart Crowley; and Terrence McNally are the playwrights.   In addition, there are three directors, three composers and three authors.  
  • Ian McKellen will join this group next month when he turns 75 on May 25 ) and Lily Tomlin on Sept. 1.  Three more will turn 75 next year: author Edmund White, fashion designer Bob Mackie and former Congressman Barney Frank.  The most recent death of someone in the 75+ group was pianist Van Cliburn who was 78 when he died in February of 2013.
  • If there lives weren't cut short by AIDS some well-known gay men would no doubt be part of this group, including choreographers Robert Joffrey and Alvin Ailey; athlete Tom Waddell; dancer Rudolf Nureyev; actors Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins, Larry Kert and Robert Reed; pianist Liberace; and French philosopher Michel Foucault.

 

NOTEWORTHY GAY PERSONALITIES AGE 75+
(Ages as of May 1, 2014)
       
  Profession Age Best Known For
Franco Zeffirelli Movie & Opera Director 91 Worked with Maria Callas
Liz Smith Gossip Columnist 91 New York Post
Ned Rorem Composer 90 Prolific composer of 300+ pieces; Fullbright Scholar; Pulitzer Prize for Music  
Edward Albee Playwright 86 "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?"
James Ivory Director 85 Merchant Ivory Productions has produced 50+ films 
Arnold Scaasi Fashion Designer 84 Designed gowns for four First Ladies
Stephen Sondheim Composer/Lyricist 84 8 Tony Awards, 8 Grammys, 2 Oscars, 1 Pulitzer Prize
Jasper Johns Artist 84 "Three Flags"/Partnered with Rob't Rauschenberg
Edie Windsor Mathematician/Activist 84 Lawsuit led to Supreme Court striking down DOMA
John Rechy Author 84 "City of Night"/"Numbers"/"The Sexual Outlaw"
Martin Duberman Historian/Professor 83 Founded Center for Lesbian/Gay Studies at CUNY 
Paul Taylor Choreographer 83 Worked with Martha Graham 
Clive Davis Record Executive 82 Managed Whitney Houston
Jerry Herman Composer/Lyricist 82 "Hello, Dolly!"/"Mame"/"La Cage aux Folles"
Tab Hunter Actor 82 Blonde/"Polyester"
Valentino  Fashion Designer 81 Last name is Garavani/Documentary: "Valentino - The Last Emperor" 
Jim French Photographer 81 Founder of Colt Studios
James Hormel Diplomat 81 1st openly gay US ambassador (Luxembourg)
Richard Chamberlain Actor 80 "Dr. Kildare"/"Shogun"/"The Thornbirds"
Don Bachardy Portrait Artist 80 2008 documentary about life w/Christopher Isherwood: "Chris & Don:  A Love Story"
John Glines Playwright/Producer 80 Tony winner for "Torch Song Trilogy"
Karl Lagerfeld Fashion Designer 80 Chanel/Fendi
Jane Wagner Writer/Producer/Dir 79 Partnered w/Lily Tomlin for 40+ years
Mart Crowley Playwright 78 "Boys in the Band"
Larry Kramer Writer/Activist 78 Co-founded GMHC/"The Normal Heart"
Giorgio Armani Fashion Designer 78 Personal worth of $8.5 billion
Johnny Mathis Singer 78 "Chances Are"
George Takei Actor 77 "Star Trek's" Mr. Sulu
Patricia Nell Warren Author 77 "The Front Runner"
David Hockney Artist 76 Born in England, fell in love with So. Calif.
Tommy Tune Choreographer/Director/Actor 75 Nine Tony Awards/Twiggy/Known for his height (6'6")
Terrence McNally Playwright 75 "Love! Valour! Compassion!"/"Master Class"/"Ragtime"/4  Tonys
Rex Reed Film Critic 75 Lives in The Dakota/pals with Liz Smith
Jonathan Ned Katz Queer Studies/Historian 75 Created OutHistory.org website
Source:  Wikipedia      

Divas & Gay Icons Who've Made Their Mark at the Super Bowl

Rainbow.football.helmetBefitting an event that attracts more than just the most avid football fans, the Super Bowl has probably drawn its share of gay men with no interest in football due to its organizers' choice of performers, some who sang the National Anthem, others who were part of the halftime show.

 

 

SINGING OF NATIONAL ANTHEM

The National Anthem's ending is a showcase for diva embellishment.  Diana Ross was the first diva to sing it, at Super Bowl XVI in 1982.  Two years later Barry Manilow got the nod.  Then in 1991 Whitney Houston received accolades for her bombastic version in 1997 Luther Vandross joined Barry Manilow as the only other male diva to sing; Cher performed in 1999, Mariah Carey in 2002, Beyonce in 2004, Jennifer Hudson in 2009 and Christina Aguilera in 2011 (she flubbed one of the lines).  And then in 2016, Lady Gaga was handed the microphone.  In my estimation, here are the three best:

 

  • Beyonce - Sung in her hometown of Houston, this is the Super Bowl best remembered for the notorious "Nipplegate" incident at halftime between Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.  I prefer to remember Beyonce's sterling performance instead.

 

Beyonce.superbowl.xxxix

 

  • Cher - Wearing an auburn colored wig, Cher was in the midst of her third or fourth comeback, this one propelled by her auto-tuned hit Believe (which won a Grammy for Best Dance Song).  Her Super Bowl performance, however, was without electronic frills - and quite powerful.

 

Cher.superbowl2

 

  • Jennifer Hudson.  She gave it her all, just three months after her mother, brother and nephew were murdered in Chicago.

 

Jenniferhudson.superbowl

 

  • And although Whitney's performance was powerful, she lost points because of unfortunate choice of attire - a cheesy white warm-up suit suit along with a white head band.

 

Whitney.houston.starspangledbanner

 

  • At 2014's game legendary soprano Rene Fleming sang, the first non-pop singer to do so in nine years.  Still, it should be a thrill for opera queens.

 

Rene.fleming

 

PERFORMING DURING HALFTIME

In the early years of the Super Bowl Carol Channing appeared during halftime at the 1970 game (likely singing Hello Dolly) and again in 1972 (joined by Ella Fitzgerald).  Then there was a long lapse before Diana Ross headlined in 1996.  Hers was most dramatic as she first appeared in a puff of smoke and then later was whisked away by a helicopter at the end of her performance (found at the 10:30 mark of this video clip).  Chakha Khan was one of a group in 1999; Tina Turner, Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton appeared together in 2000; Britney Spears and Mary J. Blige appeared in 2001; and then eleven years went by before Madonna (in Egyptian headdress); Beyonce (in a Victoria's Secret meets dominatrix outfit);  Katy Perry (getting upstaged by her sharks) and Lady Gaga got the honors in 2012, 2013,  2015 and 2017, respectively.

 

Dianaross.superbowl.helicopter
Diana Ross

 

Beyonce 2013 superbowl
Beyonce



 

Katy perry performing at super bowl with sharks
Katy Perry