Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29

Jay Brannan (b. 1982) is a Texas born singer, actor, and songwriter. An openly gay tenor who plays folk/pop acoustic guitar, he has forged a career based on the strength of his intimate YouTube videos and self promotion.

After a brief stint at the University of Cincinnati’s acting school, he moved on to Los Angeles and ultimately to New York City, where he was cast in the 2006 film Shortbus, directed by John Cameron Mitchell. He won the part, which required him to perform an explicit sex scene, by submitting an audition tape. Brannan also contributed a song to the film’s soundtrack, Soda Shop, which was his first professionally recorded track.

Brannan subsequently produced an EP and acted in Holding Trevor (2007) as the promiscuous best friend of the protagonist. Since then, he has toured and released two well-received albums. He has achieved cult status among gay men. Since 2008 he has been able to support himself from earnings from his concerts and music sales. His second album, In Living Cover (2009), reached number ten on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart for the week of July 25, 2009. Brannan promoted the album in an interview on ABC News Now in July, 2009.

Jay’s newest video is a departure from his shy persona. "Rob Me Blind" delves into the frustrating experience of "missed connections." Instead of reticence and missed opportunity, Jay acts on his impulses. In this video he exchanges flirtatious glances with a stranger while waiting for an elevator. As the doors open at each new floor, Brannan plays out a scene in which he imagines their future life together.

"I'm way too shy to ever approach anyone on the street, on the subway, in an elevator or even at a bar," Brannan says, "so it was fun to make a video involving chemistry-at-first-sight, where the characters didn't just end up going home to check the 'missed connections' listings on Craigslist."

After completing a tour of Australia this weekend, Brannan begins a US tour July 18 in Boston, ending August 25 in NYC (Highline Ballroom). The complete tour covers 28 cities, a radical departure for Brannan, who typically tours only 4-10 cities at a time. It’s a true sign of his increasing stature and popularity.

Complete tour details here:

A very blue & hot Friday

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28

Merle Miller

On January 17, 1971, American writer Merle Miller (1919-1986) came out of the closet in an article titled “What It Means To Be a Homosexual”, which appeared as the lead story in the New York Times magazine. He was among the first American homosexual men to reveal publicly the travails connected with their sexual orientation. Miller’s roommate at their house in the country had purchased a shotgun for protection the day before the original piece appeared, but Miller was ultimately buoyed by the experience of finally coming clean about his homosexuality.

The newspaper received more than 2,000 letters in response, setting a record. As a result, the article was expanded and published as a book – On Being Different. What It Means To Be a Homosexual (1971) – making Miller a spokesman for the gay movement.

Both the newspaper article and book represented a tremendous leap forward, because they did much to humanize the homosexual’s predicament. During the next ten months much of the correspondence that Miller received was from gay readers who wrote things along the lines of  “Nothing I have ever read has helped as much to restore my own self-respect” and “so much of what you have to say I have experienced myself and have rarely been able to trust anyone to ‘let go’.”

Some straight readers realized for the first time that “homosexuals were people, too, with feelings, just like anybody else.” One reader, who had always blanched at bigoted labels such as kike, Dago, spic and nigger wrote, “Yet for every time I've said homosexual, I've said ‘fag’ a thousand times. You've made me wonder how I could have believed that I had modeled my life on the dignity of man while being so cruel, so thoughtless to so many.”

The mother of a gay son wrote to Merle Miller: “Being a nice human being, my son is accepted by people everywhere. Above all, as he grows older he knows his family loves him always. Families of young gay men should not treat them as ‘sick’. Different, yes – but not sick. I think we’d have fewer suicides and better adjusted ‘different’ males if the family unit stayed close to these boys. The whole problem in our generation is that we worry so much about what our neighbors think...” At the time it was radical thinking that a parent's proper role might be to accept a child's sexual orientation, and Miller’s article paved the way for this turn around in philosophy.

As a bookish boy who wore thick glasses and played the violin and piano, Miller had been called a sissy when he started school. He said, “I heard that word at least five days a week for the next 13 years until I skipped town and went away to college.” At the University of Iowa, he wrote a satirical column in the Daily Iowan and had a job as a radio commentator. In 1938 Miller won a scholarship to study at the BBC in London.

During World War II Miller was combat correspondent and editor of the European edition of Yank – The Army Weekly. He later worked as an editor at Time and Harper’s magazines and wrote frequently for The New York Times and Esquire magazine. He was a book reviewer for The Saturday Review of Literature and a contributing editor for The Nation. As well, his work appeared frequently in The New York Times Magazine. From 1947-1951 Miller was married to Eleanor Green, who worked for publisher Farrar-Straus.

Miller’s postwar career as a television script writer and novelist was interrupted by inclusion on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s "Blacklist." In 1962 he was hired to write the script for a proposed TV series on ex-President Harry Truman. Miller spent hundreds of hours with Truman, but major networks didn’t show interest in airing the documentary. Miller felt  one of the reasons it was never shown on TV was because he had been a blacklisted writer. Miller once again stirred up controversy in 1967, when he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest,” vowing to refuse to pay taxes raised to fund the Vietnam War.

In 1974 Miller published Plain Speaking, a book based on his interviews with Truman, and it landed in the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list and remained on the list for over a year. This success led to two best-selling biographies on presidents Eisenhower and Johnson.

Merle Miller (center) with Truman Library director Benedict Zobrist (left) and Milton Perry, Truman Library curator, at the library in 1974.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26

Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs

German-born activist Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895), was a 19th-century pioneer of the modern gay rights movement. He had his first homosexual experience with his riding instructor at the age of fourteen, although he later wrote that as a child he had frequently worn girls’ clothes and wanted to be a girl. He went on to university, from which he graduated with degrees in law and theology, after which he studied history. He then worked as an official legal adviser for a district court in northwest Germany (Hanover), but he was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

At the age of thirty-seven he told his family and friends that he was sexually attracted to men, and he went on to write a series of essays based on his research about variations of human sexuality, specifically gender identities and sexual orientations.

Five years later Ulrichs became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defense of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down. Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual", and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation began to be widely discussed.

In 1864 his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony. Later the same thing happened in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia. Some of these papers were recently found in the Prussian state archives and were subsequently published in 2004. Several of Ulrichs's important works are now back in print, both in German and translated editions.

When Prussia annexed Hannover, Ulrichs moved to Munich and then on to Stuttgart and W├╝rzburg (this blogger’s university city). After publishing the twelfth volume of his human sexuality research findings, he entered into self-imposed exile in central Italy. He continued to write prolifically and publish his works at his own expense. In 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples. A short time thereafter he died of kidney failure, just a few weeks shy of his seventieth birthday. He is buried in his chosen city of exile, L’Aquila (Italy); a ceremony at his recently restored grave is shown in the photograph below.

Marquis Niccol├▓ Persichetti, who gave the eulogy at his funeral, spoke these words: But with your loss, oh Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, the fame of your works and your virtue will not likewise disappear ... but rather, as long as intelligence, virtue, learning, insight, poetry and science are cultivated on this earth and survive the weakness of our bodies, as long as the noble prominence of genius and knowledge are rewarded, we and those who come after us will shed tears and scatter flowers on your venerated grave.

Late in life Ulrichs himself wrote: Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.

Forgotten for many years, Ulrichs has recently become a cult figure in Europe. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen and Hanover (photo above); his birthday is marked each year by a street party and poetry reading at Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz in Munich. The city of L'Aquila has restored his grave and hosts an annual pilgrimage to the civic cemetery at noon every August 26. Subsequent gay rights advocates were aware of their debt to Ulrichs, and Magnus Hirschfeld referenced Ulrichs in his 1914 work, The Homosexuality of Men and Women. As well, the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents an annual Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs Award in his memory.

Trivia: Ulrichs penned the first known gay vampire story, titled "Manor" in his book Sailor Stories (Matrosengeschichten).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24


Just a few years ago during a visit to Las Vegas I was astonished to learn that a gay twenty-something violinist in our group had never heard of Liberace (pronounced Libber-AH-chee). We hoofed it over to the Liberace museum (since closed), where a fabulous collection of costumes, bejeweled pianos and automobiles, all of dubious taste, was displayed in a strip mall once owned by the pianist. The docents played it straight – no mention was made of the gay scandals and controversies that littered the last years of the entertainer’s life.

Liberace (1919-1987) was a classically trained pianist who was bullied while in his early teens growing up in Wisconsin. He had a speech impediment and shunned athletic activity for a fondness for playing the piano and cooking. At the age of twenty he played Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for which he received strong reviews. However, it was his experience playing popular music during the Depression years that put money in his pocket, and he soon became addicted to the luxuries those gigs afforded. He decided to abandon a career as a serious concert pianist and instead focused on the entertainment aspects of his performances.

He hit his stride in the 1950s, becoming an entertainment phenomenon through wildly popular television appearances, night club performances and recordings. For the next twenty years he was the highest paid entertainer in the world. Throughout the 1970s and early 80s he was earning $300,000 a week in Las Vegas. He typically spoke to the audience and even sang while sporting ever more over-the-top costumes and jewelry. His piano performances, which were highly embellished and shortened versions of classical standards (he called it classical music with the boring parts left out), became secondary to the glitz and outrageous props, and pop tunes became increasingly important elements of his repertoire. Liberace’s signature prop was a candelabra placed atop whatever piano he was playing. Liberace once stated, "I don't give concerts, I put on a show."

His private life was as flamboyant as his stage presence. He collected homes that he furnished in his favored Baroque and Rococo style, with gaudy accessories crowding every horizontal surface.

Liberace denied that he was gay his entire life, even as he was dying of AIDS. A much younger Scott Thorson (above left), who was employed as a “chauffeur/assistant”, was Liberace’s lover for a number of years. Liberace lavished the young man with gifts of luxury cars and costly jewelry. In 1982 24-year-old Thorson sued 63-year-old Liberace for palimony, an act that fueled a tabloid scandal. Thorson, who had undergone plastic surgery to look more like a younger Liberace (is this sick, or what?), had been cast aside for a teenaged male; Thorson himself had been seduced by Liberace when he was sixteen. The suit was ultimately settled out of court for a paltry $95,000 cash payment to Thorson, without Liberace admitting guilt. Thorson later admitted that being dismissed in 1982 may have saved his life, since Liberace was HIV-positive and symptomatic from 1985. In a 2011 interview, actress and close friend Betty White confirmed that Liberace was gay, and that she often served as a beard to counter rumors of his homosexuality.

The melodrama that marked Liberace’s last years is being revived in  HBO Films’ upcoming biopic titled “Behind the Candelabra.” In his first post-cancer role, Michael Douglas will portray the tortured closeted gay entertainer Liberace;  Mr. Douglas received a stage 4 throat cancer diagnosis in 2010. The biopic, which is being scripted by Richard LaGravenese, will be directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Rob Lowe will play Liberace’s plastic surgeon, and Scott Bakula will play the choreographer who introduced Liberace to his much younger longtime partner Scott Thorson, a pivotal role to be played by Matt Damon. They complete a cast that includes Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s manager and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother Frances. Cheyenne Jackson has just this week joined the cast, but is not yet at liberty to announce which role he will play. Marvin Hamlish will provide the score.

Production of the film, which is based on Scott Thorson’s 1988 book “Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace,” will begin next month in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Palm Springs, where Liberace maintained homes.

A typical stage costume for Liberace's flamboyant performances. This sequins and fur trimmed caped number is from a Christmas show.

But I digress. Back to the tan lines: