Greek-born orchestra conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) had a distinct style while on the podium – he didn’t use a baton, he conducted without a printed musical score in front of him, and he displayed an intense, vigorous physicality (later mimicked by Leonard Bernstein and Gustavo Dudamel – all three of them criticized for it).
His career reached the very heights of his profession, most notably as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra for twelve years, followed by his appointment to the New York Philharmonic in 1950, a position regarded as the most prestigious in classical music in the United States. A talented pianist and composer in his youth, Mitropoulos championed difficult, complex newly-composed music, but it was during the time of his studies in Berlin that he redirected his focus from performing and composing to conducting.
But for all his international success and acclaim, he was victimized for his homosexuality. During the time that Mitropoulos and Bernstein were having an affair in NYC, Mitropoulos advised the much-younger Bernstein to get married if he wanted to better his chances at leading a major symphony orchestra. Bernstein, a gay man, took his advice and married an actress – and went on to succeed Mitropoulos as conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
At the height of his success as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Mitropoulos became the subject of rumor and innuendo spawned by the open secret of his homosexuality, and he became a victim of McCarthy-era homophobia. He invariably dodged questions about his bachelor status by claiming "I married my art." Fear of being outed publicly forced Mitropoulos to sublimate his sexual desires, and he claimed that music making was a substitute for his “unlived sex life.”
Mitropoulos always lived modestly, even while being one of the highest paid conductors in the country; he gave away most of his money to assist struggling musicians and orchestras. He was sweet natured and kind, showing great professional respect for his orchestra members, but he was criticized for that, as well.
As support for Mitropoulos waned in NYC, the NY Philharmonic board looked for a replacement that would epitomize the masculine, heterosexual ideal. Ironically, they settled on Leonard Bernstein and named him co-conductor with Mitropoulos for the 1957-58 NY Philharmonic season. Bernstein took over as sole musical director in the fall of 1958. Although Mitropoulos bowed out gracefully, championing Bernstein’s talent, the loss of that job created a wound from which he never fully recovered. During the last years of his life Mitropoulos toured the world as guest conductor of major orchestras, but he succumbed to a heart attack in late 1960 while rehearsing the La Scala Opera Orchestra in Milan. He was sixty-four years old.
Note: principal sources for information for this post are Linda Rapp and Geoffrey Bateman.
This video gives an up-close view of his “baton-less” conducting style – excerpts from a rehearsal and performance with the New York Philharmonic.
Third movement (Mephistopheles) of Franz Liszt’s A Faust Symphony:
Handsome British film actor Dirk Bogarde’s lawyer, Laurence Harbottle, said, “I share the view of every friend of his whom I have ever known – that Dirk’s nature was entirely homosexual in orientation.”
Well, there you have it.
Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999), who portrayed numerous gay and bisexual men on the screen, spent his entire career sublimating or denying his true sexual orientation. He wanted more than anything to be regarded as a straight leading man. He was called the British Rock Hudson for his good looks and appealing on-screen persona, but the two actors had more than beauty and acting style in common.
English actor John Fraser wrote in his memoir, Close Up (2004):
“But (Dirk) could not accept, could not understand, and could not see when he watched his own performances, that he was effeminate.”
Bogarde aspired for an international film career, not one limited to British audiences. Yet he blamed the utter failure of his sole Hollywood film, Song Without End, in which he portrayed Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, on anyone other than himself. He blamed his contract with the Rank Organization for limiting him to a long stream of British films, and he complained that he was grossly underpaid.
He was a gifted painter and art restorer, a talented interior decorator and a successful writer, authoring six novels and multiple volumes of autobiography in which not a word about his true sexual orientation appeared. His lover of 50 years, Anthony Forwood (left), was referred to as “Forwood”, in an attempt to portray their relationship as merely one of employer and employee (everyone else called him Tony). Forwood had left his actress wife, Glynis Johns, and their son to move in with Bogarde to become his “manager.” Rare photo of Forwood and Bogarde together (below):
Bogarde’s talent as a writer was often put to good use in embellishing screenplay dialogue.
From The Victim (1961):
In the film Dirk’s character, lawyer Melville Farr, is confronted by his beautiful wife, Laura (portrayed by Sylvia Syms*), who demands an explanation of who this boy Barrett was, how they knew each other, and why Mel stopped seeing him.
Dirk’s character responds:
“Alright – alright, you want to know. I’ll tell you – you won’t be content until I tell you, will you? – until you’ve RIPPED it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I WANTED him. Can you understand – because I WANTED him. Now what good has that done you?”
The dialogue as it appeared in the original script went this way:
“You won’t be content till I tell you. I put the boy outside the car because I wanted him. Now what good has that done you?”
*Younger readers might recall Ms. Syms as the Queen Mother to Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (2006).
Well, this was a film in which a real life gay man was portraying a gay character, a lawyer who tries to right an injustice involving blackmail for being gay. The Victim was the first movie in which the word "homosexual" was spoken on screen, and Bogarde later took credit for writing-in the scene that was the first instance of a man saying "I love you" to another man. Unfortunately, this film all but ended his career as a leading man, yet it opened the door to later brilliant film portrayals as a character actor. Bogarde was knighted in 1992 for his contributions to acting.
The impact of this film cannot be overstated. As American film makers were struggling to make homosexual material acceptable to the Hays Code** and the Legion of Decency***, this British film appeared in which an explicitly gay character actually stood up to fight a system that oppressed homosexuals. In "Victim," Dirk Bogarde was the screen's first gay hero.
**Hays Code (1930-1968): film censorship standards named after Presbyterian elder Will Hays of Indiana, who served as Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Warren Harding. Hays had also served as head of the Republican National Committee. The Supreme Court had already decided unanimously in 1915 that free speech did not extend to motion pictures, and the Hays Office codified objectionable material. Enforcement began in 1934, when the release of any film was held up until the movie studio acquired a certificate of approval from the Hays Office. If a gay character was allowed in a film, that character was open to scorn and ridicule, and most often died by the end of the movie. It was not until after the Hays Code was replaced by the current rating system in 1968 (G, PG, R, N17) that a movie appeared in which gays celebrated their sexual orientation, not to mention that all the gay characters were still living when the end credits rolled – Boys in the Band (1970).
***Legion of Decency was established by the American Catholic Church in 1933, with even stricter standards. Their clout was the constant threat of massive boycotts against films that did not meet their moral standards.