Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31

No one could drop names like the bisexual celebrity chronicler Dominick Dunne (1925-2009). For a quarter of a century he contributed regular columns to Vanity Fair magazine. The year after VF relaunched in 1983, Dunne began his career at the magazine with a gut-wrenching dispatch from the trial of his daughter’s killer. As VF’s resident diarist, he hobnobbed with legends of Hollywood and high society and chronicled the great scandals of the times. He contributed articles about Claus von B├╝low, Imelda Marcos, the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder trial, Adnan Khashoggi, William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial, the death of multi-billionaire banker Edmond Safra, Brooke Astor’s neglect by her son, Phil Spector’s murder trial, the Princess Diana inquest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and even Monica Lewinsky. Dunne came to own this sort of gossipy reporting, and no one has emerged to take his place. He reported on the underbelly of the world of the rich and famous, but his reports were aimed at the literary and social elite. His monthly column provided an insider’s glimpse into high society, captivating VF’s readers. Justice, a collection of articles that had appeared in Vanity Fair, was published in 2001.
Shortly after Dunne died at age 83, his son Griffin outed him as a bisexual during an interview on Good Morning America, as he was promoting his father’s last book, Too Much Money. In the semi-autobiographical book Dunne wrote,  “I’m nervous about the kids, even though they are middle aged men now, not that they don’t already know. I just don’t talk about it. It’s been a life-long problem.” In Frank Langella’s just published tell-all, Dropped Names – Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, Langella devotes a chapter to Dunne, who commiserates with the author about the agonies of being a closeted gay man.

Griffin said it was just like his dad to “finally come out and then leave. It was hardly a big deal either way.” His son said that when Dunne was getting stem cell treatments in Germany to fight his fatal cancer, a man named Norman was “looking after him,” and that they obviously had a “long loving relationship.”

Dominick with wife Ellen and their three surviving children (two others had died in infancy): Griffin, Dominique, and Alexander (photo from the early 1960s).

Dunne was married for 11 years and was the father of five children, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Born into a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut, at age 19 Dunne was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in World War II, for saving the life of a wounded comrade. His family, however, was outside full acceptance by the New England old money society. A Catholic family surrounded by wealthy Protestants, the Dunnes were also considered nouveau riche – two major strikes against them. Dunne’s grandfather, who ultimately became a tycoon, had worked as a butcher. Of his grandfather, Dominick wrote: “He was simply a remarkable man, my grandfather. He was knighted by the Pope for his philanthropic work, but he never forgot he had been born poor. Never!”

Dominick’s father, dismayed by his son’s artistic leanings, called him a sissy and beat him for it, once so viciously that his left ear swelled to three times its size and turned purple. Throughout adulthood, Dominick remained partially deaf in his left ear.

In 1965 his marriage to socialite Ellen Beatriz Griffin ended in divorce. He began his career in New York as stage manager of The Howdy Doody Show but moved his family to Hollywood in 1957, where he worked as a television executive producer. He subsequently produced feature films, including the gay-themed classic, The Boys in the Band (1970). Dunne threw grand parties attended by celebrities such as Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol became an unmanageable part of his life, and in 1974 he escaped to a cabin in Oregon (without a phone or television), where after six months he regained sobriety and began a career as a writer, at the age of 50. When he learned of his brother’s suicide, he moved back to New York City.

Eight of his books became best sellers, and it is for his career as a novelist and investigative journalist that he is best remembered. Several of his books were made into TV movies, and he became the master American chronicler of crime and celebrity.

On Halloween of 1982, Dunne was informed that his actress daughter, Dominique (best known for her portrayal of the teenage daughter in Poltergeist) had been found strangled. Her assailant was her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, a chef in Los Angeles. Dunne wrote about the murder trial in the newly relaunched magazine Vanity Fair. He was a regular contributor to VF for 25 years. On the basis of dollars per word, Dunne became the highest-paid magazine writer in America.

In August of 2009, Dunne lost a long battle with bladder cancer while in residence at his East Side apartment in NYC. He was survived by two sons, Alexander and Griffin, who has acted in films such as An American Werewolf in London and After Hours.

Dunne’s country house in Hadlyme, Connecticut, was featured in Architectural Digest in May, 1992. The colonial-style home on five acres included a garage apartment, which Dunne turned into an office and work space for writing. Although he lived alone, he had frequent house guests from all over the world and made close connections with local citizens.

Let's leave the realm of the rich and famous to have a good look at some men with sexy tan lines:

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28

It’s nearing the end of Fleet Week in NYC, so fans of men in uniform who are spending the Memorial Day weekend in the Big Apple are lucky beyond belief. Thousands of military men are on the prowl along the shores of the Hudson. As for myself, I’m looking forward to a fly-over by the Blue Angels in Annapolis tomorrow morning, the day our Secretary of Defense addresses the graduating class* of the U.S. Naval Academy. Thanks to the efforts of our President, this is the first year graduates can celebrate as openly gay military men and women.

*Those entering the Navy wear dress whites; those entering the Marines wear dress blues. You're welcome.

Speaking of the Naval Academy, remember last week’s news photos of the shirtless plebes mounting that greased pole? No? Well, let your blogger refresh your memory. The assembled crowd got to witness two hours of shirtless, straining, sweating cadets (no rush, fellas) grabbing hold of each other in an intimate human pyramid to remove 200 pounds of lube (the Navy thinks of everything) from the decidedly phallic Herndon monument. Cadets traditionally end their first year by removing a freshman’s “Dixie-cup” cap and replacing it with an upperclassman’s hat on top of the monument. It doesn’t get any more homoerotic than this. Some rites of passage are to be savored.

Before you view the next photo, make special note of the controversial "palm to abs" technique being demonstrated above. Sneaky! 

Well, there you have it. The crude jokes just seem to write themselves, but I'll spare you my lame attempts. Still, it seems to me all this is excellent training for Turkish oil wrestling. Kirkpinar, anyone?

For those of you still with me, let’s have some tan lines on a black & white Monday holiday.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25

Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy

The distinguished English-born writer Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), shown at right, and American painter Don Bachardy (b. 1934) were open about their homosexual relationship, regardless of the controversies their life together caused. Mid-twentieth-century America was a time when gay relationships were not acceptable, and their 30-year age difference brought on additional problems that had to be addressed when they settled into Isherwood’s home in Santa Monica, California.

They became a high profile, openly gay couple during the age of McCarthyism, when homosexuals were being driven out of the government and Hollywood. Young Don often felt disregarded by Chris's famous friends, who thought of him as a “child prostitute” (Bachardy’s own words).

Nevertheless, Bachardy stuck around and pursued a career as a portrait artist, painting and drawing every day. His first one-man exhibition was held in 1961 in London. Finding a vocation gave Don a sense of fulfillment and independence. He began to realize that he could function independently, which made him question whether he wanted to stay with Isherwood. Don toyed with leaving the relationship and striking out on his own, but decided not to, as he realized his love for Chris was too important. Their relationship lasted for thirty-two years, until Isherwood’s death.

From 1930 to 1933 Isherwood had lived in Berlin, where he felt released from the social and sexual inhibitions that stifled his development in England. Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) was subsequently adapted as the musical Cabaret, which was produced in both Broadway (1966) and film (1972) versions. This movie, starring Liza Minelli, put Isherwood on the map, expanding his celebrity beyond literary circles.

In 1939, Isherwood emigrated to the United States with W. H. Auden. Auden stayed in NYC, but Isherwood settled in Los Angeles, where he began writing film scripts; in 1946, he became a U.S. citizen. He loved California and never regretted leaving England. Seven years later, he met college student Don Bachardy on the gay portion of beach at Santa Monica on Valentine’s Day, 1953. Don was 18, and Chris was 48, but Don’s boyish appearance actually made him look even younger (see photo at left). When they moved in together, their neighbors were aghast. Don’s father, who was younger than Isherwood, was so taken aback by the age disparity, that he didn’t speak to Isherwood for 15 years. He was ultimately won over, and eventually Don’s father, a skilled mechanic, was working under the hood of Isherwood’s car.

Isherwood took Bachardy under wing and educated him personally. “Chris was completely responsible for my becoming an artist,” says Don. In addition to supporting him through art school, “financially and emotionally,” Isherwood also introduced Bachardy to great literature. “He gave me Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises,' Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby,' and Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' to start, and I just went from there.” Don has said that Isherwood “never gave me bad advice.” The influence on Don by Chris cannot be overstated. Don even affected Isherwood’s English accent to the point that friends could not tell them apart on the telephone.

Chris & Don – A Love Story (2007): This documentary film (available on DVD and on-line streaming) depicts the remarkable life of Don Bachardy and his relationship with Isherwood. They call each other Dobbin and Kitty, and the movie includes footage shot by Chris and Don in the 1950s as well as interviews with Leslie Caron, John Boorman and Liza Minnelli.
In the opinion of important literary critics, Isherwood's finest achievement was his 1964 novel, A Single Man, which depicted a day in the life of George, a middle-aged, gay Englishman who is a professor at a Los Angeles university, mourning the loss of his lover, Jim, who had died in a car crash. This book was made into a film of the same name in 2009; Colin Firth, its star, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and the movie was the directorial debut of Tom Ford.. Don Bachardy had a cameo in the film and is credited as a creative consultant; he portrayed a professor in the teacher’s lounge, to whom Firth says "Hello, Don". A Single Man was Isherwood’s personal favorite of his nine novels. The book is a meditation on the temporality of life, but is also filled with humor, compassion and intelligence. Chris also enjoyed praise from his peers. Gore Vidal called Isherwood “the best English prose writer of the 20th century.”

During the 1970s, Chris and Don began to collaborate on various writing projects, such as “Frankenstein: The True Story”, an unusual take on Mary Shelley's famous novel. In 1981, Isherwood was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Bachardy nursed him throughout the course of the disease. For the last six months of Isherwood’s life, Don gave up painting any one else but Chris (see photo). What began as way to spend more time together quickly became the project of a lifetime, lasting until the very end. Don still lives in the Santa Monica home on Adelaide Drive that they shared for decades.

After Chris’s death, Don engaged in painting a series of portraits of Angelina Jolie. Bachardy's career has continued to flourish, and a number of books about Bachardy's art have been published, the latest of which is Stars in My Eyes. Bachardy's work resides in important permanent collections around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Smithsonian Institution, and The Norton Simon Museum.

It's time to leave this inspiring story to focus on some male tan lines. Enjoy, gentlemen.