A special note to my blog visitors:
Today is the two year mark since a blog tracker started recording clicks for Male Tan Lines. The magic number is: 1,640,052 page views from 190 countries, including the Vatican (!) - there are only slightly more than 200 countries in the world. Along with this mind-boggling statistic comes the realization that I have a voice – something possible only in our Internet age – because I include bios and items of interest to the gay male population. I get E-mails from people who have thanked me for taking the time to research a post about a famous or influential gay or bisexual male, especially when it is someone in their field or area of interest. It often makes us feel better about ourselves to realize the importance of gays and bisexuals throughout history. You have also thanked me for my other blog, Gay Influence (clickable link in sidebar at upper right), so that you can share the written content with family or friends who would not appreciate being directed to a web site with photos of naked men. I have made more than 220 of these “off-topic” posts, and more are on the way. Some have flattered me by saying that there is disappointment on days when there is no "off-topic" post. But bear with me for a moment.
I have no problem with accommodating people who hold views that differ from my own. That’s what’s great about my country, the USA – we have free speech rights. One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that I learn more from people whose ideas and causes differ from my own than I do by cushioning myself by associating only with those whose thoughts align with mine. The old “two sides to every story” bit actually holds water. However, people who lie or just make up stuff to support their prejudiced diatribes give free speech a bad name.
Dustin Lance Black has done something about it. In 2010 he actually sat in the California federal courtroom (Perry v. Brown) over a three week period to get a first person take on the bigoted defenders who, under oath, revealed one after the other that there were no facts to back up their claims in fighting gay marriage. Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage, was overturned and ruled unconstitutional – but it’s still not over; the case is surely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Black wrote “8", a 90-minute play about the trial, quoting actual transcripts and first hand interviews for a script. A successful reading in NYC led to a YouTube version with a cast that included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Bomer, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, George Takai, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Martin Sheen (who gives a speech that will make your hair stand on end) – all directed by Rob Reiner. Take six minutes of your time to watch gay screenwriter/activist Dustin Lance Black as he is interviewed about his play “8":
200,000* computers captured the live-streamed YouTube premiere last weekend (March 3), now archived on YouTube. Following is the entire broadcast (the play itself is the last 90 minutes of the 2-hr. broadcast; there is an option to skip the first 30 minutes to jump to the start of the play):
*This is an arresting statistic. It would take 21 weeks (5 months) of sold-out performances in a 1,200 seat theatre to reach an audience of 200,000, based on 8 performances a week. Thanks to YouTube, that many people saw it in two hours (at the time I punched in "post" this morning, that number had increased to more than 470,000). It is important to note that the defendants, who had launched a campaign of fear and prejudice, had tried to suppress having the videotapes of the trial released, because they were cast in such an unflattering light. Our laws require that the transcripts of the case, however, be made available. All of the words of the actors in the trial scenes are exactly as recorded in the transcripts.
Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, I want to thank you all for your loyal visits to Male Tan Lines.
Black & White Saturday
Cole Porter: American Songwriter
After one year he dropped out of Harvard Law School, where he had resided with Dean Acheson, the future Secretary of State. His unwavering D-grades in all his law courses resulted in a transfer to the School of Music in 1914 for his second year at Harvard. For a time he studied music with Pietro Yon, who went on to become famous as organist at NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Porter, who was exclusively homosexual, met his future wife Linda at a 1918 wedding reception in Paris, where he had lingered after serving in France in a volunteer ambulance unit during the final year of WW I. Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with a little of everything sprinkled in for good measure – much gay and bisexual activity, cross-dressing, international musicians, Italian nobility, and a large surplus of recreational drugs. For a twenty-something boy born on a farm in Peru, Indiana, things were moving fast.
After their honeymoon in southern France and Italy, Cole sought further formal musical training, enrolling at the Schola Cantorum in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He soon abandoned his notion of writing serious orchestral music, however, and did not complete the curriculum.
Linda, thirteen years older than Cole, provided him with a passport to social landscapes he could never have traversed on his own. Their world was a fusion of outrageous Bohemianism and mad-cap Roaring Twenties liberation, tossed together with moneyed misfits, exiled royalty, show business personalities and assorted impoverished creative geniuses. Included in their social circles were Coco Chanel, Lauritz Melchior and Arthur Rubenstein, who loved to sit down at the piano to play Cole Porter songs. In short, they knew anyone worth knowing.
Soon after their marriage, Linda bought a much larger Parisian residence in 1920 at 13, rue Monsieur, a street just one block long, not far from the Eiffel Tower (and purchased for more than $10 million in today’s money). The rear garden backed up to the house of Nancy Mitford, the British novelist, biographer and socialite, who was involved in a romance with the homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St. Clair-Erskine. But I digress.
Linda’s house in Paris was so large that they rented a suite of rooms to Howard Sturges, a close friend of Linda’s who became Cole’s dearest life-long friend. Sturges lent Linda a beautiful painting by Christian Bérard, which hung for years in their Parisian drawing room. Sturges, a witty, old-money Boston socialite, was a trained violinist who kept a pet bear and walked a pig on a leash through the streets of Paris. I’m not making this up.
Hostess Elsa Maxwell leans over a smiling Cole Porter. Maxwell was a huge fan and patron.
Sturges often traveled with Cole and Linda, wherever their journeys took them, and Cole and Howard made this three-way friendship more complicated when the two men entered into an affair. The Porters were peripatetic to the extreme. They always traveled with an entourage of servants and friends, usually picking up the tab for their guests, and quickly became acquainted with Egypt, Monte Carlo, Italy, London, Biarritz, Spain and New York. To say that the Porters lived large is understatement.
Cole and Linda befriended wealthy American ex-pats Gerald and Sarah Murphy, and together they made the South of France a fashionable year-round resort destination. There were striking parallels in the lives of the Murphys and Porters, not the least of which was the fact that both Gerald and Cole were married homosexual men.
In 1923 Cole’s wealthy grandfather died. Long disapproving of Cole’s choice of a career, he made no mention of Cole in his will. Of the four million dollars left to Cole’s mother, however, she gave half to her son, then 32 years old, who later said the inheritance didn’t spoil or ruin his life – it just made it wonderful. Well, not everything was wonderful. It was about this time that Porter tested positive for syphilis.
Soon Cole and Linda became part of the social set of Prince and Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The princess, based in Paris, was heir to the singer sewing machine fortune. She was a captivating lesbian married to a homosexual (and financially destitute) prince, who was himself a talented amateur composer. They hosted private musical salons that drew on the talents of Stravinsky, Fauré, Satie, Ravel and Milhaud. The Polignac’s musical afternoons were for decades the most important and influential venue for new French music.
For five summers during the 1920s, the Porters descended upon Venice, renting the fabulous Palazzo Rezzonico. During the summer of 1925 Cole became completely smitten with Boris Kochno, a Russian poet, librettist and Ballet Russes dancer who was Diaghilev's collaborator. Their correspondence survives, and Porter comes across as a love-sick puppy. Soon thereafter, Porter returned to the U.S. to write shows for Broadway and Hollywood. While living in New York, Porter found that paying for sex was less complicated emotionally, and it allowed him to indulge his taste in sailors, marines and assorted prostitutes.
Porter's piano (right) stands today in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in NYC, where Cole and Linda Porter kept an apartment.
Monty Woolley, who often joined Cole to cruise New York City's waterfront bars and bordellos, recounted that one night, a young sailor they approached by car asked outright, "Are you two cocksuckers?" Woolley responded with, "Now that the preliminaries are over, why don't you get in and we can discuss the details?"
Cole’s numerous male lovers included Nelson Barfeld (a dancer who was a former U.S. Marine), Robert Bray (a married Californian) and Jack Cassidy (a character actor). Not to mention architect Ed Tauch, choreographer Nelson Barclift, director John Wilson and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of Porter's copyright royalties. When in Hollywood, he was a regular guest at George Cukor's Sunday all-male pool parties, but soon the two became rivals. While renting a beautiful Hollywood home owned by renowned homosexual actor-decorator Billy Haines, Porter held competing all-male parties, and Cole’s became the more valued invitation. Porter was not discrete. A recent biography recounts that in his later years, Cole kept "breaking appliances so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair". As well, Scotty Bowers's recent Hollywood tell-all recounts that Porter had a decided taste for giving oral sex to Marines while suffering verbal abuse and humiliation.
In 1937, Cole was involved in a tragic horse riding accident and fractured both his legs. This was especially debilitating and humiliating to the ego of a vain man who placed enormous value on looks for both social and sexual reasons. He was in the hospital for months as his mental and physical health waned. He was in constant pain from his leg injuries and underwent 34 operations, all ultimately unsuccessful. Linda, who had left Cole when he started living a high profile gay life in Los Angeles, returned to his side.
In 1945, he lent his permission to the movie project Night and Day, allegedly about the life of Cole Porter. Although a great boost to his ego, the plot was a wildly fictionalized biography. His friends thought it hysterically funny, knowing the divide between fact and fiction. The movie overlooked Porter’s overly pampered and controlled youth, his notorious gay life and his sexless marriage of social convenience; instead it lent credence to the tall tales Cole spread about himself, such as his (fake) war record and injuries. According to friends, Cole enjoyed the movie's wildly fictional account, and he especially savored having closeted movie star Cary Grant play a heroic, straight version of himself. Fortunately Porter did not live to see the 2004 film De-Lovely, a wretched misstatement of facts and an utter bore. I do not know how it was possible to make the extravagant, over-the-top lives of Cole and Linda Porter, portrayed by Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, appear so dull.
A major blow came with Linda’s death in 1954. She died after a long illness from chronic respiratory problems at their apartment in the Waldorf Towers in NYC. Although they had separated only to reunite several times, they remained devoted to each other. Unfortunately, Porter descended into further creative silence and social isolation in 1958, when his right leg was finally amputated. Porter was embarrassed and incapacitated by the surgery. Linda Porter had acquired a 40-acre estate in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts) in 1940, and after her death, Cole became a virtual recluse at Buxton Hill**, as the property was named. Porter ordered the Tudor-style main house razed after Linda's death and moved a caretaker’s cottage to the location of the original house. According to one of his biographers, visitors to Buxton Hill became fewer and fewer, because most weekends Porter was wicked drunk and ignored his invited guests, some of whom dubbed the farm, “the torture chamber.” At Cole’s death from kidney failure in 1964 (at a nursing home in Santa Monica), the Buxton Hill estate went to Williams College, but returned to private hands a few years later. It is now
a luxury inn, with tennis courts and a 30' X 50' swimming pool.
**When Cole Porter formed his own publishing company, he named it Buxton Hill.
Of note: Porter’s wildly successful 1934 musical Anything Goes is currently being revived on Broadway, and a touring company will soon take the show to audiences all across the country.
His body of work includes some 1,400 songs. Some are on-offs which continue to astonish listeners today. For example, in Miss Otis Regrets (1934) we are told by a servant of a polite society lady how her employer was seduced and abandoned. In just a few lines of lyrics, we learn that Miss Otis hunted down and shot her seducer, was arrested, taken from the jail by a mob, and lynched. The servant conveys Miss Otis's final, polite, apologetic words to her friends: "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today." There is not another song like it.
Carmen McRae's impassioned reading of "Miss Otis Regrets..."
Among Cole Porter’s classic American standards are:
Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye (1944)
Ray Charles and Betty Carter’s classic reading of Porter’s extraordinary tune and lyric:
When you're near there's such an air of spring about it.
I can hear a lark somewhere begin to sing about it.
There's no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor
Everytime we say goodbye.
Night and Day (1932 - one of ASCAP's top 10 all time money makers)
I Love Paris (1952)
Begin the Beguine (1935)
From This Moment On (1950)
I’ve Got a Crush on You (1929)
Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love (1928)
You’re the Top (1934)
I Get a Kick Out of You (1934)
I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936)
In the Still of the Night (1937)
Don’t Fence Me In (1934)
True Love (1956)
Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly sing a duet aboard the yacht True Love in High Society, the musical remake of Philip Barry’s 1939 stage play, The Philadelphia Story (made into an acclaimed film in 1941).
Some songs have remained inexplicably obscure. After You, Who? was a great favorite of Mabel Mercer, but I had not heard anyone else sing it in years. Imagine my surprise when John Barrowman included it on a recent album.
After You, Who? - The Gay Divorce* (1932)
Though with joy I should be reeling that at last you came my way,
There's no further use concealing that I'm feeling far from gay,
For the rare allure about you makes me all the plainer see
How inane, how vain, how empty life without you would be.
After you, who could supply my sky of blue?
After you, who could I love?
After you, why should I take the time to try,
For who else could qualify - after you, who?
Hold my hand and swear you'll never cease to care,
For without you there what could I do?
I could search years but who else could change my tears
Into laughter after you?
* Hollywood codes forced the 1934 film version to be called The Gay Divorcée. Censors would not concede that a divorce could be something joyous. I kid you not.
Trivia: Cole Porter was left handed and found it awkward to write down music on staff paper. He worked out a solution by turning the paper at a right angle, so that the staff lines were vertical. True.