Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 31

Anderson Cooper's Firehouse Fantasy

Anderson Cooper (b. 1967) is the grandson of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and son of Gloria Vanderbilt, earning him status as a true blue-blood. While there is scarcely a soul alive who does not know that he is gay, he does not talk about such personal details. He lets Kathy Griffin tease him about it, even while on the air, and he is seen all over NYC riding bikes with his male partner. He has not denied being gay, but he will not discuss his private life publicly.

His recent real estate project, however, can lead us to speculate that the silver fox might indulge in a fireman fantasy or two. Cooper purchased the historic Fire Patrol House No. 2, at 84 West Third Street (between Sullivan & Thompson in NYC's Greenwich Village) and then restored it for use as his personal residence. Removal of many coats of exterior paint revealed the original handsome brick, terra cotta and limestone architectural details. The garish red and white paint job on the face of the ground floor was replaced by a more somber black with original limestone accents. The man has taste, and apparently bucketloads of money.

But this was a Fire Patrol House, not a NYC fire department station. In the early 19th century, insurance companies hired citizens to walk about at night to watch out for fires, an idea first proposed by Benjamin Franklin. These Fire Patrol people would spot and extinguish fires, saving insurance underwriters significant payouts. Their fire wagons would deliver heavy tarps to cover broken windows and protect furniture and delicate equipment in order to minimize water damage from fire fighter’s efforts. Among the patrolmen’s duties were water removal and salvage work after a fire had been put out, providing the insurers with an on-site link to the extent of fire damage. Modern inventions such as telephones and electric streetlights made the Fire Patrol largely obsolete, but the tradition prevailed in some cities, with NYC being the last holdout. The city’s fire patrol was not disbanded until 2006.

Built in 1906, Fire Patrol Station Number 2 had never been updated. When Cooper bought it, the structure still had the original wood flooring, windows, spiral staircase, fire poles and hand-sawn ceiling beams. Even the stables that once housed the patroller’s horses remained intact at the rear of the building.

That was the good news. Over time the fire patrolmen had exercised much misplaced taste in "improving" the look of their home. The stone sculpture of Mercury above the double entry doors had been painted in flesh-colored enamel with bright yellow hair. The limestone at street level had been painted glossy white with bright "fire engine red" enamel covering the ground floor brickwork. The upper stories' brick, tile and stone façade had been painted over in a dull red. Mr. Cooper had his work cut out for him.

Until 1906 Fire Patrol Number 2 had operated at 31 Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village, but a boarding house at 84 West 3rd Street, one block south of Washington Square Park, was purchased and razed for the construction of a new red brick four-story patrol house.

The façade was embellished by limestone quoins with terra cotta accents, and a carved head of Mercury above the truck entrance signified the speed of the responders. When the fire patrollers moved into their new home in 1907, an elevated railroad covered 3rd Street directly in front of the building (see vintage photo).

During their hundred years at West Third Street, the men engaged in many acts of heroism, but a recent event brought renewed interest in the Fire Patrol system, which in modern times was involved mostly with salvage work at commercial fire sites. Among the emergency responders to the World Trade Center disaster on the morning of September 11, 2001, was 27-year-old fire patrolman Keith Roma. A member of Fire Patrol Number 2, he had worked for over an hour evacuating World Trade Center employees – eyewitnesses estimate that he personally removed more than 200 individuals. Roma himself, however, was never seen again after that day. On Christmas Eve, 2001, his body, with fire helmet at his side, was discovered alongside those of nine civilians he was trying to save. He was the first fire patrolman to die in the line of duty in more than three decades. A plaque outside Fire Patrol Number 2's building honors his sacrifice. Throughout their history, 32 patrolmen had died in the line of duty.

When NYC’s Fire Patrol was disbanded in 2006, the New York Board of Fire Underwriters offered the building for sale. The Greenwich Village Historic Society panicked, quickly requesting landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Their fears were for naught, because Anderson Cooper hired architect Cary Tamarkin to preserve and renovate the fire patrol house into a private residence.

“We could not be happier with the gorgeous exterior renovation that highlights and respects the unique history of the building,” the Society said in its blog on September 1, 2011. Tamarkin restored the stone and terra cotta detailing, removed the layers of paint and replaced the windows with replicas. The architect retained interior details such as the herringbone brick floor, brass fire poles and cast iron spiral staircase. When Cooper moved in earlier this year, among the original features he retained was the old firemen’s gym, which he outfitted with old-fashioned bar bells and weights. It is a praiseworthy example of the reuse of vintage structures and a fitting testament to the history of the New York Fire Patrol, which had operated in the city from 1839 until 8:00 a.m. on October 15, 2006.

But I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled programming, as Mr. Cooper would say.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29

Andrew Goldstein: Ivy League & Pro Lacrosse

Andrew Goldstein (b. 1983) was the first American male team-sport professional athlete to be openly gay during his playing career. He was a goalkeeper for the Long Island Lizards of Major League Lacrosse, but was originally drafted in 2005 – as an out, homosexual athlete – by his hometown team, the Boston Cannons. “Not a single person ever mentioned my sexuality to me,” Goldstein remembered. “It was only about lacrosse.”

During his time as a two-time All-American Dartmouth College lacross goalie, Andrew said: “I have always been an athlete. I just wanted a chance to go out there and play the sport that I love without having to hide my sexuality from my teammates, who are most of my closest friends.” And play the sport he did. Andrew was the first goalie in 30 years to have scored a goal in an NCAA tournament game. Watch him (#6) in action as he scores that goal for Dartmouth against Syracuse:

In a column for OutSports, Andrew wrote about the aftermath of his decision to come out to his team at Dartmouth during the summer of 2003. “It isn’t strange anymore, being the gay one amongst my friends, in my fraternity, on my team. It all happens in one moment, when you realize that the people who care about you will always care about you, and what is most important is to care about yourself. I told myself that I would have to be strong. I thought that people might talk about me behind my back as I walked down the street, and I worried that, on my first road trip this year with the lacrosse team, the unlucky guys who had to be my roommates would complain about sleeping in the same room as the homo. I thought that the first time I walked into the showers after a long practice, the other guys would all walk out or at least ask me to leave.

It didn’t happen like I had planned. I never had to be strong after that first moment. My friends, brothers, and teammates don’t treat my any differently because I am not any different now. I am still the loud one with my friends, the jock in my frat, and the goalie on my team. The only thing that has changed? Now girls are not afraid to approach me in a social setting and put their arm around me or even worse, grab me in an inappropriate place. I waited for people to stare at me or ask me questions or say names but it turns out I was worried about nothing all that time.

On a national level, I knew that news would spread. I wondered how this would affect my status as an athlete, but I found that the preseason honors and expectations only got higher. The world is ready for us. They may not be accustomed to us playing on their fields, dressing in their locker rooms, or taking home their MVP trophies, but when we gain their respect and show that we belong, the transition is smooth. What is new and different scares people. It might be a while before people accept gay marriages and adoptions as normal. But a bright group of 20-year-olds just trying to string together enough wins to take home the Ivy League title for a second straight year really don’t mind if I call up a boyfriend on the phone after a big game.”

Andrew made headlines off the field in 2005, when he was dubbed by ESPN to be “the most accomplished male, team-sport athlete in North America to be openly gay during his playing career.” In 2006, Andrew Goldstein was honored by being named to the OUT 100. He also received a prestigious 2006 GLAAD Media Award for the feature titled 'Andrew Goldstein', which aired on ESPN 's Sportscenter. That same year he left professional lacrosse to pursue a Ph.D. at UCLA.

Goldstein hails from a family of talented athletes. His father and sister played hockey for Brown University, and his brother played lacrosse for Amherst. A biochemistry and molecular biology major while at Dartmouth, Goldstein recently received his Ph.D. in biology from UCLA with a specific emphasis on cancer. Andrew is now a professor at UCLA, where he runs a lab focusing on prostate cancer.

With his professional sports-playing days behind him, Goldstein has turned to amateur gay athletics. It was not easy finding a lacrosse game in Los Angeles, so he returned to ice hockey. He played with the Los Angeles Blades for several years, and Andrew won a gold medal in ice hockey playing with a Toronto-based team at the 2010 Gay Games.

Now Goldstein regularly works the speech-making circuit, talking directly to athletes and coaches. His new challenge to gay athletes and allies is simple: “Coming out isn’t enough anymore, you’ve got to get in the trenches, talk to more coaches, athletes and administrators and affect real change.” His partner, Jamie, is a TV writer – not much of a sports fan – but he supports Andrew in his athletic endeavors and his advocacy against homophobia and homophobic language in sports.

What follows is from ESPN's Sportscenter, the finest TV produced segment about gay athletes that I have seen. Please share it with your families and friends.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27

British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) masterminded cracking the German Enigma code during WW II, thus helping to shorten the war. He is also considered the father of computer science and the modern digital computer, with his invention of the Turing Machine (1936). His work continues to influence the field of artificial intelligence and the application of computer techniques in understanding biological forms and systems. He was a mathematical genius, and he was also homosexual.

While attending a noted independent school in Dorset, sixteen-year-old Turing fell in love with an older male schoolmate, Christopher Morcom, who died unexpectedly of bovine tuberculosis at the age of nineteen. Socially inept, Turing exhibited symptoms of autism, and Morcom had brought him out of his shell. Grief stricken following Morcom's death, Turing spent the next few years studying the question of how the human mind might survive death – Morcom's mind in particular. This research led to the study of quantum-mechanical theory and ultimately to the concept of thinking machines. He went on to study at Cambridge but moved to the U.S., where he earned a doctorate at Princeton (1938). He later became a specialist in the field of cryptanalysis.

For his work for the British government at the top-secret Bletchley Park facility (museum display at right with Tyrung's photo) during WW II, Turing was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946. Shortly thereafter he became a professor at Cambridge University, where he fell in love with Neville Johnson, a student. Turing was surprisingly open about his sexual orientation, given the mores of the time. In 1952 a young man from Manchester attempted to blackmail Turing for his homosexuality, leading Turing to go to the police to report the attempt at extortion. Instead of deciding to prosecute the extortionist, they arrested Turing on twelve counts of gross indecency. Turing would not deny the charges, taking the stance that he had done nothing wrong. The court disagreed, and Turing's security clearances were withdrawn, putting an end to his brilliant work. To avoid a prison term, Turing agreed to be subjected to experimental hormone treatments designed to curb his homosexual desires. Massive doses of estrogen caused him to grow breasts and become chemically depressed. His life thus ruined, he committed suicide in 1954, by ingesting a cyanide injected apple two weeks before his 42nd birthday. In 2009 the British government issued a formal apology for the way Turing was treated after WW II.

The year 2012 will be a centennial celebration of Turing’s life and scientific impact, with a number of major events taking place throughout the year. Most of these will be linked to places with special significance in Turing’s life, such as Cambridge, Manchester and Bletchley Park. 

Trivia: A blue plaque outside the 4-star luxury Colonnade Hotel in London indicates where Turing was born one hundred years ago, on June 23, 1912, when the hotel served as a hospital.

But I digress. Back to the tan lines:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25

On the set of the film Gods and Monsters, gayness was the subject of lunch discussion among the cast and crew. "Was Vincent Price gay?" someone asked, to which Sir Ian McKellen loudly replied, "Well, he was married to Coral Browne, wasn't he?!"

Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. (1911-1993) was married three times, the last a lavender marriage to lesbian actress Coral Browne. Upon their engagement, the Australian born Browne told critic Bernard Drew: "We've both decided to give up boys". In order to marry, Price converted to Catholicism, and Coral Browne became a U.S. citizen.

Vincent Price was an accomplished art critic and collector, a gourmand, a generous benefactor to those in need, a concerned and active political man, a devoted father – and a celebrated actor (who had a drinking problem). His bisexuality was an open secret to Hollywood insiders, and Scotty Bowers’s recent Hollywood tell-all book, Full Service, mentions that Price used his services to procure men, and Browne to procure women, for sexual gratification. But Price’s sexual predilection was surely the least interesting thing about him.

Price had a “grey” listing by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the McCarthy era, and he made a somewhat shocking deal with them. He was a noted art lecturer in London. Price was involved in the 1959 rigged TV quiz-show hearings for his part in The $64,000 Question. He witnessed the Nazi regime first-hand while living overseas, even attending one of Adolph Hitler's many rallies. He played a young parasitic playboy from Kentucky in the Oscar-winning film Laura (1944, with Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney). Price graduated from Yale, plied the London stage, wrote a cookbook (A Treasury of Great Recipes, 1965), bore a son and a daughter (Victoria, a lesbian who wrote a book about her father), and developed a fine art sales division (1962-1971) for Sears-Roebuck (!). In the late 1960s he played the villain Egghead on ABC’s Batman television series. Back in the 1940s and 50s he was a popular radio actor (The Saint), while decades later Price provided a Sprechstimme “rap” contribution to Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller song track and video. He hosted BBC radio and PBS television series. In 1976 he was a featured guest on The Muppet Show. And that’s not the half.

Somewhere in there I forgot to mention the horror movies, his greatest legacy. Price's first venture into the horror genre was the 1939 Boris Karloff film Tower of London. There followed House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958) and a string of movies based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe: House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Raven (1963) chief among them.

Not bad for the son of a candy company president from St. Louis (Vincent Leonard Price Sr.). A lifelong smoker, Price died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 82, by which time he had packed in enough activity for three or four lifetimes. If you find yourself in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterrey Park, stop by the East Los Angeles College campus to visit the Vincent and Mary Price Gallery and the Vincent Price Art Museum, the repository of Price’s art collection, comprising some 9,000 items valued at more than $5 million.

But I digress. Back to the tan lines, which is the reason you visited this blog.