Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30

Leonardo Da Vinci

Because Leonardo da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452, he was denied both an education and a lucrative profession. Despite the stigma of being a bastard son of a notary and peasant girl, Leonardo went on to master anatomy, astronomy, architecture, botany, cartography, engineering, mathematics, music, poetry, science, optics, sculpture, sketching, geology and, last but not least, painting. The polymath of all polymaths, he also designed machines and drew plans for hundreds of inventions.

When he was 15, Leonardo moved from the village of Vinci to the city of Florence, known both as a great center of art and as a flourishing community of homosexual men (in those days the German word “Florenzer” [Florentine] was the term for a homosexual). When he was 24, Leonardo and three other youths were arrested in Florence on a sodomy charge. An anonymous tip alerted the magistrate of the city that a 17-year-old male was a gay prostitute, and Leonardo was listed as one of four patrons. No witnesses appeared against them, and eventually the charges were dropped. However, two months later Leonardo was again accused and this time jailed for two months, until an uncle arranged for his release. Leonardo never married, had any children or showed any interest in women, and he wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him. Leonardo dealt with this controversy by leaving Florence to settle in Milan.

Thereafter Leonardo took pains to keep his homosexual life private, but he nevertheless always surrounded himself with attractive men. Although he started writing his journals in code, his art reflected his love of male beauty, and the models he used were sexually desirable young men. His relationship with the beautiful curly-haired Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (note Leonardo's painting of Caprotti at beginning of post), a former pupil, lasted twenty five years. For the last ten years of his life, Leonardo’s companion was a much younger nobleman, who would later serve as the executor of Leonardo’s estate.

When Leonardo died in 1519, Caprotti (better known as Salaì, meaning “little Devil”) inherited half a vineyard and several works of art, among them the Mona Lisa painting, now regarded as the world’s most famous portrait. Although Leonardo described Salaì as "a liar, a thief, stubborn and a glutton," Leonardo kept him in his household for more than 20 years, eventually training him as an artist. If Salaì had merely been a servant or pupil, he would have been dismissed.  Although Salaì stole from him on numerous occasions, Leonardo spent lavishly on clothing for his “kept” boy, even purchasing the 24 pairs of shoes the lad desired. What we do for love.

Many art historians believe that Salaì was the model for Leonardo’s homoerotic painting of John the Baptist. Salaì, a painter of modest talent, even created a nude version of the Mona Lisa, known as the Monna Vanna (shown at right). A page of drawings by Leonardo includes a sketch depicting Salaì from behind, pursued by a horde of penises on legs. I’m not making this up. We might have more of these had a pious priest not destroyed the bulk of Leonardo’s erotic gay sketches.

Leonardo eventually sent Salaì on his way, replacing him with a very young nobleman, Franceso Melzi, who described Leonardo’s affections as “a passionate and most fiery love.” Public knowledge of Leonardo’s homosexuality extended beyond his lifetime. In 1563, a book by Gian Paolo Lamazzo included a fictional dialogue between an interviewer and Leonardo. When being queried about the nature of Leonardo’s relationship with Salaì, Leonardo was asked, “Did you play the game from behind which the Florentines love so much?” Leonardo replied, “And how! Keep in mind that he was a beautiful young man, especially when about the age of fifteen.”

Undisputedly, Leonardo possessed the greatest mind of the Italian Renaissance. He wanted to know the workings of what he saw in nature. His inventions and scientific studies were centuries ahead of their time. He was the standard of ingenuity, and his intellectual inquisitiveness was the epitome of the Renaissance spirit. Six centuries later, the world is still in awe.

The following is from Serge Bramly's 1991 great biography of Leonardo:

No other personality was so intimidating, no other career so difficult to encompass, so biographers often resort to the assumption that Leonardo embodied some superhuman quality: "il divino". Vasari (a contemporary biographer of Leonardo) wrotes "there is something supernatural in the accumulation in one individual of so much beauty, grace, and might. With his right hand he could twist an iron horseshoe as if it were made of lead. In his liberality, he welcomed and gave food to any friend, rich or poor." His kindness, his sweet nature, his eloquence (his speech could bend in any direction the most obdurate of wills) his regal magnanimity, his sense of humor, his love of wild creatures, his terrible strength in argument, sustained by intelligence and memory, the subtlety of his mind which never ceased to devise inventions, his aptitude for mathematics, science, music, poetry. What's more, Leonardo was himself a man of physical beauty beyond compare.

Leonardo trivia:
He slept a paltry two hours a day.
A left-handed dyslexic, he tried to paint with both hands.
He was a stern self critic, destroying most of his work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29

Josey Greenwell stands out among the clutch of up-and-coming country singers. He is, well, umm – attractive.

The blond-haired blue-eyed 23-year-old Kentucky bred hunkster won the Colgate Country Showdown in 2006 and was signed to a record deal in Nashville at age 19. When the label discovered that Greenwell was gay, he was promptly dropped.

Now the singer is finding his own way, writing his own songs and getting his music out there on his own. It also pays to have a talented photographer in your pocket and a smokin’ hot bod. Not a bad voice, either.

Have a listen.

Anybody know if Josey has a tanline?
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28

Perry Mason's Raymond Burr's Fabricated Hetero Life

Many gay actors invest enormous amounts of energy to remain closeted, but few deceptions were as convoluted as that of Canadian-born Raymond Burr (1917-1993), known for decades as TV’s Perry Mason. He believed he could conceal his homosexuality by creating an imaginary life to hide his thirty-five-year relationship with Robert Benevides. Burr told everyone he was married three times and had a son who died of leukemia at the age of ten. However, a few years after his death, Burr’s sister admitted that her brother was married only once (the marriage was annulled after a few months) and never had a son.

Burr was leading a secret gay life at a time in Hollywood when an acknowledged homosexuality was career suicide, so he fabricated a tragic biography for himself in which he was mythologized as a heartbroken husband and father. There was even an invented affair with a teenage Natalie Wood, 21 years his junior.

At the height of his popularity in television and film, he frequently gave speeches to the American Bar Association, by virtue of his famous portrayal of lawyer Perry Mason. Burr was driven to embellish this elaborate façade when he found out in 1961 that a member of the American Bar Association had given the FBI documents indicating that Burr was "a noted sex deviate." Burr’s response was a classic case of gay panic.

Burr’s television persona, Perry Mason, was a defense attorney who was the main character in works of detective fiction by celebrated author Erle Stanley Gardner. Burr played this role for an astonishing five decades. He won fame, fortune, and numerous awards for portraying Mason for nine years on TV, followed by 26 made-for-TV movies. When TV Guide asked Burr shortly before his 1993 death to name a single regret, he answered, “It was accepting the role that made me famous: Perry Mason. It dominated my life. Perry took over, and it became a burden.”

In 1993, Burr’s close friend, actor Charles Macaulay, told Mary Murphy of TV Guide, “Raymond Burr really was Perry Mason. The two were one and the same.” Maybe so, but Raymond Burr had other interests. He was an innovative breeder of orchids, an award-winning vintner, a respected Beverly Hills art dealer, and foster father to more than twenty children.

The 6'3" actor began work as a teenaged lounge singer, and soon thereafter Dragnet’s Jack Webb gave him work as a radio actor, which led to theater work. At age twenty, Burr became a member of a Toronto-based repertory theater. However, his real fame was achieved as a TV and movie actor.

In 1954 he played the menacing wife-killer Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window. Two years later, the tall, rotund actor appeared in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the first of the Godzilla movies. That same year Burr auditioned for the title role in CBS’s upcoming Perry Mason series. At the audition, Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner witnessed Burr’s reading and exclaimed “He’s Perry Mason.”

After the CBS drama premiered in 1957, Raymond Burr was suddenly a big star and one of television’s highest paid actors. He spent much of his income to support a philanthropic lifestyle. Burr famously opened his home and wallet to out of work actors. As well, he supported more than twenty foster children. Without publicity, and at his own expense, Burr made trips to Korea and Vietnam to support and speak with our soldiers serving on the front lines. He was awarded an honorary law doctorate from the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, on the basis of his association with the role of TV lawyer Perry Mason.

Burr’s generosity took other forms, as well. When William Talman, who played the forever losing prosecutor Hamilton Burger on Perry Mason, was busted during a raid at a pot party (in the nude no less), he was fired by CBS. They used the morals clause in their contract to dump him. But Burr tirelessly worked on behalf of Talman to get his job back. Burr refused to remove Talman’s coffee mug from the rack on the set and forbade Talman’s dressing room to be cleaned out or his space on the studio parking lot to be reassigned. Eventually the executives at CBS relented and Talman was back on the show, but his career would have been finished if it had not been for Burr’s intervention.

Nine seasons, 271 episodes, and two Best Actor Emmy wins later, the Perry Mason series came to an end. This gig was followed by the highly successful Ironside NBC series (1967-1975), in which Burr played paralyzed police detective Robert Ironside.

It was on the set of Perry Mason that Burr first met Robert Benevides, the man who would become his companion and partner. Burr and Benevides discovered a mutual interest in the hybridization of orchids. Together they started a nursery with orchid ranges in Fiji, Hawaii, the Azores and Southern California. Over a twenty-year period, their hybridization was responsible for more than fifteen hundred new orchids being added to the worldwide catalogue. Also with Benevides, Burr opened a successful Rodeo Drive art gallery.

By the mid 1980s, the portly actor and some of his series co-stars returned for the first of twenty-six, two-hour made-for-TV Perry Mason movies. It was about that same time that Burr and Benevides began growing grapes in Sonoma County, California. Their first releases came to market in 1990. To this day, Robert Benevides oversees the award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernets at Raymond Burr Vineyards. These wines have won a number of gold medals and even a Sweeps prize at the 2008 San Diego Wine Competition.

Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 1992, Burr retreated with Benevides to their Sonoma Valley ranch, where the TV icon spent his final days dispersing his wealth through charities, gifts to friends, and the development of grant and trust programs. In the last two weeks of his life, Raymond Burr hosted farewell parties for his friends and foster children. He was buried in New Westminster, British Columbia, the town where he was born, now home to the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Center.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26

Roman Emperor Hadrian and Antinous

Roman Emperor Hadrian, who reigned in the early years of the second century, sought to promote his devotion to his Greek male lover, Antinous (statue at left), who drowned in Egypt in the year 130 during a state visit. After this tragic death, Hadrian went through a period of intense, obsessive mourning and "wept for him like a woman" when his lover's body was presented to him.

The emperor, who had spent seven years with his young lover, subsequently commissioned 2,000 naked or partially clothed statues of the beautiful teenager for display throughout the empire. Hadrian declared his beloved to be a god and founded a cult city in his honor, Antinoopolis, in Middle Egypt along the banks of the Nile. Temples were dedicated to the worship of the Roman Empire’s newest God. This was an astonishing act, because heretofore in the Roman Empire, deification was only conferred upon emperors.

The new city of Antinoopolis was a forest of white-marble temples, monuments and colonnades laid out on a grid pattern and adorned with hundreds of images of the New God Antinous. A great arch welcomed travelers arriving by boat at the marble docks. Broad streets lined with fine shops and luxurious homes led to a central intersection, where a colossal gilded bronze statue of Antinous Epiphanes “coming forth” towered over the square. A north-south colonnade was matched by an east-west colonnade which ran the length of the city, linking the Mausoleum of Antinous at one end with the Theater at the other. Beyond the city walls, on the dusty plain between the river and the eastern cliffs, an enormous Hippodrome dominated the elevated land east of the city gates.

Antinoopolis c. 1799

At the direction of Hadrian, cities throughout his empire organized festivals and games to commemorate Antinous. Between 133 and 137, thirty-one Greek cities issued coins bearing his image. In addition to the bronze and marble statues and busts of Antinous (more than 100 of which survive), countless reliefs, medals, cameos and gems were crafted to further honor the emperor’s young lover. Private shrines dedicated to Antinous sprang up everywhere, from Britania, to the Danube Frontier to North Africa. Priests of Antinous were appointed to perform the ceremonies that would perpetuate the memory of the new God for all eternity.
The competitors in the Antonous festival games were primarily young men called Ephebes. In Antinoopolis these included swimming and boat races in the Nile, but the Antinous games were unique in that they included competition in the arts and music, as well. The over-all winner was consecrated as the living embodiment of Antinous and given citizenship in Antinoopolis, with an all-expenses-paid life of luxury and adoration. The victor was worshiped in the temple as the representative of Antinous, the emblem of youth and masculinity. Thus the winner was the "Divine Ephebe." The image of Antinous established the last great ancient type of male adolescent perfection, and his cult endured for several hundred years, lasting well into the Christian era.

During the Byzantine Period, after the fall of the Western Empire, Antinoopolis was renamed Ansena, to distance itself from it Greco-Roman past. When the Byzantine Empire was ultimately overrun by Muslims, Antinoopolis/Ansena was abandoned and vanished from history. The village that today occupies the city’s site, Sheik Abadeh, suggests nothing of its former glories. It is known that the Egyptian Caliph plundered the heavy bronze doors of the Temple of Antinous and brought them to his new city of Cairo, but they have since vanished, unfortunately.

When the ruins of Antinoopolis were surveyed in 1798 by Napoleon’s representative Edme-Francois Jomard, 1,344 statues of Antinous were discovered. Archaeologists subsequently found over half a million jars containing offerings to the shrine at Antinoopolis. Unfortunately the ruins of Antinoopolis were lost in the early nineteenth century when an Egyptian construction company ground most of the city’s remaining pillars into cement. A few, however, survive to the present day (shown below).

However, the extraordinary story of Antinous was inadvertently preserved by the Catholic Church in documents denouncing paganism. Thus the beautiful sculptures and images of Antinous were often carefully buried underground by his worshipers to protect them from destruction. Hundreds of years later, the statues were unearthed and subsequently hailed as magnificent treasures from the ancient age.

Hadrian’s predominant sexual taste, like that of Trajan, his predecessor as emperor, was for teenage boys, and he fathered no children. The emperor wrote extravagant love poems idolizing young men, all of which have been lost, unfortunately. However, the surviving examples of the sculptures and busts of Antinous he commissioned rank among the greatest extant works of art of the Hellenistic period. Some of these are currently displayed in the Vatican, Louvre, Fitzwilliam and Altes Museum (Berlin). Hadrian flaunted same sex love by filling the gardens of his villa at Tivoli with suggestive statues of teenage boys.

Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose homosexuality failed to diminish even after harsh treatment by his father, imitated Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli when he built his own palace, called Sans Souci. Frederick incorporated busts of Antinous to function as a subtle code for his own homosexual desires.

In more modern times the love affair between Hadrian and Antinous is acutely and sympathetically analyzed in Marguerite Yourcenar's historical novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), which led to her election to the French Academy as its first female member.

I recall a 2008 visit to London’s British Museum, which featured an exhibit called Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. Among the images of Antinous was an enormous bust (shown above) depicting a male youth sporting elaborate cascades of hair. The notes explained that the holes drilled into his hair were for attaching  flowers and fruit, and the empty eye sockets would have been filled with precious stones to make the eyes look alive. As well, the voluptuous lips (a trademark of all images of Antinous) would have been painted red. I wish I had known all this when I lived as a student in Germany, where I often crossed the Limes, the ancient remains of Hadrian’s wall that ran through the Odenwald in southern Germany, not far from my university city of Würzburg.

To my blog readers:
I just received a comment by Australian author George Gardiner. You may be interested in his book. Click on the link below the title of the book for reviews and ordering information.

Readers of your Antinous/Hadrian materials may be also be interested in the recently-published novel about this historic relationship in "THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History". It is available in 500-page paperback and Kindle (and other ebook formats) at Amazon USA, UK, & Australia.

George Gardiner