Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31

Zach Wahls (whose sexual orientation is unknown to me, so including him on this blog is a wild stretch) appeared in the most-watched political YouTube video of 2011 (18,000,000 views and counting). He spoke before the Iowa legislature, urging them to reject a constitutional amendment that would deny marriage equality to his lesbian mothers. It was one of the most inspiring and influential speeches I’ve heard; he is obviously passionate about his family, so it’s worth taking three minutes to watch it again:

Zach now appears in another video that sends a seasonal greeting with the message: Love Makes a Family. This video is compiled from photos submitted by thousands of families who wished to join Wahl, his mothers and his sister in sending a holiday greeting.

Happy New Year to all!

King Charles I of Württemberg
(in German: Karl I von Württemberg)

If you think of Stuttgart at all, it is most likely as the home of automobile manufacturers Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. However, Stuttgart is also the capital of Baden-Württemberg, a south German state bordering Bavaria to the east and Switzerland to the south. About 125 years ago a gay royal scandal nearly shook Württemberg off its foundations.

Karl Friedrich Alexander was the third King of Württemberg, from 1864 until his death in 1891. He was king at the time of the unification of Germany in 1871 and skillfully led his people in the decision to become part of the new German Empire. Born in Stuttgart in1823, at the age of twenty-three he married the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I, and at the age of 41 Karl acceded to the throne upon his father's death. The couple had no children, because of Karl's homosexuality, so Olga and Karl adopted Olga's niece Vera Konstantinova.

Had an American pianist studying music at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music not injured his arm, there might have been no scandal at all. Richard Mason Jackson (a pianist known by his middle name as “Mase”), along with Charles Woodcock and Donald Hendry became the objects of obsession by gay King Karl. The king was so smitten that he gave the Americans titles, positions and lavish gifts far beyond their station. They eventually held such sway over the king (and his purse) that the new German Chancellor Otto von Bismark had to intervene in order to sever their sordid influence over Karl. It was a royal soap opera the likes of which had not been seen in those parts, and the royal family was not able to cover it up. All the sordid details appeared in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In October 1888, the New York Herald republished a story from its European edition describing three American males who were said to be lavishly disposing of the monarch's money. The article said that an American named “Mase” Jackson was one of the three gentlemen playing “Piers Gaveston” parts in Germany." Gaveston was the male lover of England's King Edward II Taken literally, Americans "playing Piers Gaveston parts" with King Karl meant that they were performing the insertive role in anal intercourse. Although the newspaper chose a euphemism to describe such acts, the reading public at the time would have understood the meaning.

The same article focused on gossip circulating in Germany about King Karl and seances presided over by the “upstart” Baron von Jackson, of Steubenville, Ohio. The rise of Mase from poor, humble origins in Ohio to the aristocratic "Baron von Jackson" in Germany was juicy gossip in its day. Jackson's father, a cousin of General Stonewall Jackson, had died at the very moment of his son's birth in 1846. Raised by his widowed mother on a farm in Ohio, Jackson had moved with her to nearby Steubenville, and there studied the piano, developing an ardent desire to become a musician. At sixteen, unable to finish his courses at Mount Union College, Jackson returned to Steubenville, and taught music at Beatty's Seminary (a school for female teachers). He tuned pianos, became organist in the Methodist Episcopal Church and traveled often to Pittsburgh to enjoy the opera. Jackson formed a friendship with another Steubenville youth, a popular tenor, Will H. MacDonald, and, subsidized by relatives, traveled with MacDonald to Germany, to study at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music. When Jackson injured his arm and was forced to give up the piano, he took a job in 1876 as assistant to the American Consul in Stuttgart, a position he held for five years. The handsome, young American walked daily through the Stuttgart parks and soon attracted the notice of the King, who was 23 years his senior. The newspaper reported that this “grew into a friendship of the most intimate character.”

In 1881 the homosexual monarch asked Jackson to join his household as a "confidential friend and companion." Jackson accepted, renounced his United States citizenship, and was made a Baron. He  added "von" to his last name and become a favorite of the King of Württemberg. A large apartment in the palace was assigned to “Baron von Jackson”, and a private entrance was constructed, connecting directly to the royal apartments. A handsome income and lavish gifts were bestowed upon him. The King had also added the American to his will, so that should his benefactor die, Jackson would still be immensely rich. All of these salacious details appeared in the newspapers.

But Jackson was not yet through exploiting his royal connection. Because of his intimacy with King Karl, honors were showered upon Jackson by the kings of Holland and Saxony, the Emperor of Austria, the Czar of Russia, and even the Pope, with whom he had an audience. After Jackson saved the lives of three men whose boat had overturned, King Karl made him a "Privy Councilor," and Jackson was called “Excellency,” an honor seldom attained by anyone other than royalty, and even then, usually late in life.


The coat of arms of the Württembergs: Fearless and Faithful.

The American's appointment to court caused a political furor. Next the New York Sun picked up the story and offered even more sordid detail to the controversy. They reported a love triangle, with Jackson seeking intimacies and favors from both the king and the Grand Duchess Vera. The king retaliated by making Jackson promise not to marry “during the king’s lifetime.”

Jackson was described by an American lady living in Stuttgart as the life of the American colony and "the funniest man I ever knew," with a quaint, droll way of talking. She added: "Men and women – and particularly children – liked him."

Jackson had been appointed "Reader to the King," a euphemism for the King's companion, one whom he could meet in ordinary fashion, without formalities. The king bestowed on Jackson rare works of art and gifts of diamonds, and the American was known as the man who had the most influence over the King.

The New York Star cited a response to the controversy by interviewing a nephew of Jackson, a Dr. Morrison of Steubenville: “It has been sneeringly said that the King of Württemberg fell in love with Jackson. Well, I don't see very well how he could help doing that. Mace was of the kindliest disposition that you could imagine, gentle almost as a girl, but so manly in bearing as to claim the admiration of all who came in contact with him. His weakness used to be his love for flowers.”

Well, that explains it!

Dr. Morrison noted that Jackson had saved the king from snowballs thrown by some intoxicated students and that the monarch had then become "perfectly infatuated with Mase." When the King heard Jackson play the piano "his infatuation became complete." The King had then insisted that Jackson consent to assist him in managing the realm. Neither the King's infatuation, nor the Ohio pianist's call to manage a kingdom was considered odd by his trusting relative. Dr. Morrison boasted that Jackson had written home, telling his relatives that the king called Jackson “My dear bosom friend, Jack.” Then things got really interesting when Dr. Morrison mentioned that Jackson blamed another American, Charles Woodcock, for kicking up a scandal. Dr. Morrison was told that Woodcock was jealous of the king’s attention to Jackson. But that wasn't the half.

Tomorrow, the rest of the story.

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30

Archduke Ludwig Viktor

The Habsburg dynasty had a wee problem with inbreeding, resulting in a family that, how shall we say, lacked handsome physical attributes (translation: if not downright ugly, they were way weird looking). Archduke Ludwig Viktor was no exception. His only advantage was the fact that his older brother, Franz Josef, was the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The archduke (1842-1919) had a face only a mother could love (evidence above). After having produced three male heirs, Ludwig’s mom ignored the fact that he wasn’t the girl she had wanted and dressed him like one. As if not to disappoint her, he grew up gay as a goose. It didn’t help that everyone called him Lutzi-Wutzi (pronounced Loot-see Voot-see). He was an impetuous pleasure-seeker whose life revolved around the theatre and collecting art and antiques. He wore women’s clothing (photo below; thanks, mom!), kvetched and gossiped incessantly and couldn’t be trusted with a secret from anyone. His über-vain sister-in-law Sissi, adored by the Austrians as an antidote to their dull, stuffy emperor, was initially kindly disposed toward Ludwig Viktor, until things she told him in confidence got back to her. It got so bad that she eventually refused to have a conversation with him unless a third party was present to verify what transpired. Incredibly, Sissi’s favorite sister Sophie was singled out as a possible bride for Ludwig Viktor (yeah, right), but she rejected him, only to become engaged to and then dumped by another gay Ludwig, the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, of Neuschwanstein fame. It appears poor Sophie seemed destined for tragedy; she eventually died in a fire in Paris. I’m not making this stuff up.

Trivia: In related tragic family news, another of Ludwig Viktor’s older brothers, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (emperors seemed to run in the family), was assassinated by firing squad while on assignment in Mexico City in 1867.

Photo at right. Yep. Just who you think it is.

But I digress. At age 21, the archduke needed new digs to host his notorious and extravagant “stag” parties, so he built an Italian Renaissance palace on the new Ringstraße, the grand boulevard encircling central Vienna sited along the path of the recently razed city walls. Built on Schwarenbergplatz just two blocks from the State Opera House, Ludwig Viktor’s city palace, designed by famed architect Heinrich von Ferstel, had a glaring deficiency – it had no swimming pool. This oversight gave the archduke reason to patronize a nearby public establishment, the Centralbad, Vienna's "largest and finest bathhouse." The archduke, a frequent visitor, went there regularly for “Turkish baths.”

Ludwig Viktor’s homosexuality was an open secret. Even his brother Franz Josef joked about it. But in 1906, at the age of 64, the archduke was slapped and knocked to the ground by one of the young Centralbad* patrons, an athletic middle-class man, apparently as the result of an unwanted advance by the archduke. Ludwig Viktor used his family ties to have the young man arrested, but it was determined that the man’s actions were warranted, and he was released from jail. When informed of his brother’s scandalous behavior, Emperor Franz Joseph became extremely angry and banished Ludwig Viktor to the archduke’s summer palace, Schloss Kleßheim, a former residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg, and ordered him not to return to Vienna during his brother's lifetime. Ludwig Viktor was also forced to resign his patronages, and most of his staff was moved to other positions.

*Trivia: the Centralbad is now the Kaiserbründl, one of Europe’s most luxurious gay saunas. Kaiserbründl means "Emperor's Well." Again, I’m not making this up.

At Schloss Kleßheim (above) Ludwig Viktor finally had a grand blue and white pool installed. He invited army officers to use it, but could never seem to find swimsuits for them to wear. In Salzburg the archduke eventually won the hearts of the locals for his charitable efforts, and by an amazing coincidence, outlived the Habsburg empire, dying in 1919 on the first day of the post-WW II conference in Versailles, which would abolish the royal order of which Ludwig Viktor was one of the most “entertaining” representatives.

Both of Ludwig Viktor’s palaces can be visited today. Schloss Kleßheim was used as a dance school in the 1920s, but the Nazis later took it over as a guest house. The scene of a number of meetings between Hitler and Mussolini, the palace was notoriously riddled with listening devices. During the Cold War, the neutral Austrian government used Schloss Kleßheim to hold conferences and host international guests, among them U.S. President Richard Nixon, who met here with Chancellor Bruno Kreisky on his way to Moscow in 1972. It now serves as Salzburg’s main casino.

As for the Vienna palace on Schwarenbergplatz (above), the military used it as an officer’s casino before the First World War. Ludwig Viktor would turn over in his grave if he saw the TGI Friday’s on the ground floor (below), but he’d take more kindly to the fact that today, the palace’s great hall functions both as a rehearsal space for the Burgtheater and alternative venue for the theater’s smaller productions. The restaurant (below) and theater entrances (above) are around the corner from each other. With only two hundreds seats, “Burgtheater im Kasino,” as it is known, offers a small and intimate setting for one of Vienna’s best theater companies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28

Charles XII, King of Sweden

Charles (Swedish: Karl XII) was a dashing, handsome 15-year-old when he became king of Sweden in 1697. During the next 20 years he brought Sweden to its pinnacle of prestige and power through his brilliant military campaigning and victories.

The Great Northern War, as it was called, dominated his life, and he was called “Alexander of the North” by his admirers. He devastated the armies of Denmark, Russia and Poland. In the Battle of Holowczyn, for instance, despite being outnumbered over three to one against the Russian army, Charles pulled out a victory. Other than his military acumen, he was known for two things, his abstinence from alcohol – and a similar abstinence from women.

Charles was also brave to the point of folly. He led his men into battle believing that his example would spur on his men to follow his example. Unfortunately, he was killed on the battlefield at Fredriksheld by a bullet to the head, directly above his right ear. He was 36 years old at the time. Without his leadership, Sweden’s involvement with the Great Northern War ultimately ended in defeat three years after his death.

While his admirers explained away his lack of interest in women by saying he was “married to the military,” Charles had a robust sexual taste for military men. Two of his lovers were military leaders from his army – General Behnsköld and General Stenbock (Count Magnus Gustafsson Stenbock). He also had a serious affair with Prince Maximillian of Württemberg, a younger admirer who had volunteered to serve in his army at the age of 14. Charles called him his “Little Prince” after Maximilian was wounded at age 19 trying to protect Charles from bullets. As well, Charles was involved in a relationship with the much older Swedish field marshal Count Axel Wachtmeister, who had been a close friend of his father.

Voltaire so admired Charles that he wrote a biography in 1731, thirteen years after Charles was killed on the battlefield in 1718, and Samuel Johnson praised Charles in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27

When Clark Gable (at left, circa 1927) first arrived in Hollywood in 1925, he would do anything or use anyone to advance his career. His first two wives were decidedly unglamorous older women who kept Gable in the lifestyle of a star. As soon as Gable touched the limelight, he abandoned his second wife and followed wherever his penis led. He tore through Hollywood’s women with the appetite of a starving teenager, with one notable exception.

Gable had one homosexual encounter that is well documented. The great silent film star Billy Haines, who was the most popular male film star of 1930, was the hub of gay Hollywood. He told all his friends about his sexual hookup with Clark Gable in the late 1920s, which was unusual, since Haines never bragged about such things. Haines knew first hand the damage that could be caused by a public knowledge of homosexuality. Joan Crawford confirmed the story, and her testament holds up under scrutiny because she was the lifelong best friend of both men. She had no reason to lie about either star, and she cherished the friendship of both. 

More than ten years later Gable avenged his gay past. Hollywood was awash with both homosexuals and Jews, and Gable let it be known that he held both factions in disdain. By 1939 Gable had come to personify the image of a super macho male star. During filming of Gone with the Wind, Gable seemed uncomfortable by the occasional presence of Billy Haines, who visited the set as a guest of director George Cukor (who was both homosexual and Jewish). When Gable overheard the comment, “George Cukor is directing one of Billy’s old tricks,” Gable walked off the set and vowed not to return until Cukor was replaced.

MGM decided it needed Gable more than Cukor for this particular project, and Victor Fleming was ushered in as replacement director, even though Cukor had already worked for two years on preproduction and filming. Although Gone with the Wind became one of the great films of all time, the incident didn’t harm the career of George Cukor, who immediately began working on The Women and continued to make top grossing films.

Gable, circa 1931, without a moustache (or cigar). Gable died at the age of 59 in 1960, before his last film The Misfits (with costar Marilyn Monroe) was released.

Take one last look at those ears, and we'll move along to some tan lines, which is why you stopped by in the first place.