Today in Gay History

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January 21

Born
Lytton Strachey
1880 -
British writer and critic LYTTON STRACHEY was born (d. 1932). He is best known for establishing a new form of biography in which psychological insight and sympathy are combined with irreverence and wit. His 1921 biography Queen Victoria was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
 
Educated at Cambridge, he became close friends with non-Apostles Thoby Stephen and Clive Bell, and they, together with sisters Vanessa and Virginia Stephen (later Bell and Woolf respectively), eventually formed the Bloomsbury group. Strachey is credited with having revolutionized the art of writing biography. In reaction to the copious dull scholarship and the lengthy panegyrics of the 19th century, he determined to write biographies that were swift, selective, critical, witty, and artistic.
 
His work includes Eminent Victorians (1918), a volume of short biographical studies; Queen Victoria (1921), his masterpiece; Elizabeth and Essex (1928); and Portraits in Miniature (1931). As a critic, Strachey was the author of such works as Landmarks in French Literature, a study of the classical spirit (1912), and Books and Characters (1922).
 
Though Strachey spoke openly about his sexuality with his Bloomsbury friends (he had a relationship with economist JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, who also was part of the Bloomsbury group), it was not widely publicized until the late 1960s, in a biography by Michael Holroyd. He had an odd relationship with the painter Dora Carrington. Allegedly, she loved him; it was unrequited, two months after Strachey's death, she burned all of Strachey's personal possessions and committed suicide.

Cristobal Balenciaga
1895 -
The best known Spanish fashion designer, CRISTÓBAL BALENCIAGA was born on this date. Regarded as the master of fashion, his classic designs inspired the fashion industry throughout most of the twentieth century and continue to exert influence.
 
Born in Guetaria, near San Sebastian, Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga Eisaguirre was the son of a fisherman. He studied needlework and dressmaking with his mother until 1910. In 1915, he established his own tailoring business under the sponsorship of Marquesa de Casa Torres. By the early 1930s he had established a reputation as Spain's leading couturier. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Balenciaga closed his three couture houses and left Spain.
 
After a brief stay in London, Balenciaga settled in Paris and in 1937 opened The House of Balenciaga on Avenue George V.
Balenciaga never married. This fact, coupled with his career in fashion, has led to speculation and rumors about his sexuality. A deeply private man, he never discussed his personal life publicly.
One particular incident reported by writer Jacqueline Demornex may, however, throw a little light on his sexuality. After an argument between the couturier Coco Chanel and Balenciaga, Chanel allegedly made the following observation to a mutual friend: "It is obvious that he dislikes them (women); look at the way he conceals blouses under suits, just to expose the wrinkles in their necks." Inasmuch as such charges are frequently made against gay male designers, Demornex ponders why Chanel attacked Balenciaga in such a way: was it his age, his way of dressing women, or his private life?
 
So flattering were Balenciaga's creations that women often ordered more than one of each design so that they could wear one while the other was being cleaned or so they could keep one at each of their houses. Remembered as a master of black, Balenciaga often favored a muted palette of colors, especially a combination of black and brown, inspired by the traditional dress of his native Spain. Spain was also the source and inspiration for his use of lace, his heavy embroidery with jet-encrusted trimmings, as well as the brilliant whites and the drama and dignity of stiff formal fabrics reminiscent of those painted by Goya and Velásquez.
 
In 1968 Balenciaga closed his business rather than see it compromised in a fashion era he did not respect. He retired to Spain and died in 1972.

James Beard
1903 -
American chef and food writer JAMES BEARD was born (d. 1985). Recognized by many as the father of American gastronomy, throughout his life he pursued and advocated the highest standards, and served as a mentor to emerging talents in the field of the culinary arts.
 
According to the James Beard Foundation, "After a brief stint at Reed College in Portland," (from which he was expelled in 1922 for homosexual activity) in 1923 Beard went on the road with a theatrical troupe. He lived abroad for several years studying voice and theater, but returned to the United States for good in 1927." He trained initially as a singer and actor, and moved to New York City in 1937. Not having much luck in the theater, he and his friend, Bill Rhodes, capitalized on the cocktail party craze by opening a catering company, "Hors D'Oeuvre, Inc.", which led the publication of Beard's first cookbook, Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapés, a compilation of his catering recipes.
 
In 1946, he appeared on an early televised cooking show, I Love to Eat, on NBC, and thus began his rise as an eminent American food authority. Beard began lecturing, teaching, and writing books and articles. Child states, "Through the years he gradually became not only the leading culinary figure in the country, but `The Dean of American Cuisine'." In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School and taught cooking for the next 30 years around the country. He was a tireless traveler, bringing his message of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome, American ingredients, to a country just becoming aware of its own culinary heritage.
 
James Beard is the central figure in the story of the establishment of an American food identity. He was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Many consider him the father of American-style cooking. His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation's annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.
 
Julia Child accurately sums up Beard's personal life in an brief description: "Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled during his eighty-two years, he was familiar with many cuisines but he remained fundamentally American.
 
He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly, and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time."
Child's summary makes two significant omissions. The first is that he was gay. Beard's memoir states: "By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay. I think it's time to talk about that now." The second was Beard's own admission of possessing "until I was about forty-five, I guess a really violent temper."
 
The New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman (who did not know Beard personally) describes him in a similar way: "In a time when serious cooking meant French cooking, Beard was quintessentially American, a westerner whose mother ran a boardinghouse, a man who grew up with hotcakes and salmon and meatloaf in his blood. A man who was born a hundred years ago on the other side of the county, in a city, Portland, that at the time was every bit as cosmopolitan as, say, Allegheny PA."
 
Craig Claiborne, Beard's contemporary (his birthday is tomorrow) called Beard "an innovator, an experimenter, a missionary in bringing the gospel of good cooking to the home table. Physically he was the connoisseur's connoisseur. He was a giant panda, Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant rolled into one. On him, a lean and slender physique would have looked like very bad casting." Beard died of heart failure at the age of 81. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, United States, where he spent his summers as a child.
 
After Beard's death in 1985, Julia Child had the idea to preserve his home in New York City as the gathering place it was throughout his life. Peter Kump, a former student of Beard's and the founder of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), spearheaded the effort to purchase the house and create the James Beard Foundation.
 
Beard's renovated brownstone is located at 167 West 12th Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village. It is North America's only historical culinary center, a place where Foundation members, the press, and the general public are encouraged to savor the creations of both established and emerging chefs from across the country and around the globe. The annual James Beard Foundation Awards are given at the industry's biggest party, part of a fortnight of activities that celebrate fine cuisine and Beard's birthday.
 
Held on the first Monday in May, the Awards ceremony honors the finest chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, restaurant designers, and electronic media professionals in the country. It culminates in a reception featuring a tasting of the signature dishes of more than 30 of the James Beard Foundation's very best chefs.
 
The foundation also publishes a quarterly magazine, Beard House, a comprehensive compendium of the best in culinary journalism. The foundation also publishes the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Directory, a directory of all chefs who have either presented a meal at the Beard House or have participated in one of the foundation's out-of-House fundraising events. (This writer has cooked at the Beard House twice!)

Dior
1905 -
Fashion designer and icon CHRISTIAN DIOR was born on this date (d. 1957) in Granville, Manche, Normandy, France, the younger son of Maurice Dior, a manufacturer of fertilizer and chemicals, and his wife, the former Madeleine Martin. Dior had an elder brother, Raymond, whose daughter was the Nazi sympathizer Françoise Dior.
 
Acceding to his parents' wishes, Dior attended the Ecole des Sciences Politiques from 1920 to 1925. The family, whose fortune was derived from the manufacture of fertilizer, had hopes he would become a diplomat, but Dior only wished to be involved in the arts.
 
After leaving school he received money from his father so that in 1928 he could open a small art gallery, where he sold art by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Max Jacob. After a family financial disaster that resulted in his father losing his business, Dior was forced to shut down the gallery. In the 1930s Dior made a living by doing sketches for haute couture houses. In 1938 he worked with Robert Piguet and later joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, where he and Pierre Balmain were the primary designers. In 1945 he went into business for himself, backed by Marcel Boussac, the cotton-fabric magnate. Dior's fashion house opened in December 1946, and the following February, he presented his first collection, known as Corolle. It was more famously known as the New Look.
 
The actual phrase the "New Look" was coined by Carmel Snow, the powerful editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar. Dior's designs were more voluptuous than the boxy, fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II styles, influenced by the rations on fabric. He was a master at creating shapes and silhouettes; Dior is quoted as saying "I have designed flower women."
 
His look employed fabrics lined predominantly with percale, boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made his dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very curvaceous form. The hem of the skirt was very flattering on the calves and ankles, creating a beautiful silhouette. Initially, women protested because his designs covered up their legs, which they had been unused to because of the previous limitations on fabric. There was also some backlash to Dior's designs form due to the amount of fabrics used in a single dress or suit--during one photo shoot in a Paris market, the models were attacked by female vendors over the profligacy of their dresses--but opposition ceased as the wartime shortages ended. The New Look revolutionized women's dress and reestablished Paris as the center of the fashion world after World War II.
 
Dior died at the health spa town Montecatini. Some reports say that he died of a heart attack after choking on a fish bone. Time magazine's obituary stated that he died of a heart attack after playing a game of cards. However, the Paris socialite and Dior acquaintance Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Rédé stated in his memoirs that contemporary rumor had it that the fashion designer succumbed to a heart attack after a strenuous sexual encounter with two young men. His companion, at the time of his death, was an Algerian-born singer, Jacques Benita.

John Savident
1938 -

British actor and former policeman JOHN SAVIDENT was born on this date. Best known for his role on TV programs like Yes, Minister, Coronation Street (as Fred Elliot, 1994 - 2006), Sharpe's Regiment, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders. Savident also appeared in films including Waterloo), A Clockwork Orange, The Raging Moon, Galileo, Gandhi, Remains of the Day, and Othello.


Noteworthy
L to R: Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West
1926 -

VITA SACKVILLE-WEST writes a love letter, dated this date, to VIRGINIA WOOLF that begins their love affair.  The affair between Virginia and Vita, who were both married, was not considered shocking within Virginia’s bohemian social circle — The Bloomsbury Group was accepting of bisexuality and open marriages.

Vita was a huge cheerleader for Virginia, trying to build her confidence to leave her self-imposed isolation and to believe in her skills as a writer. The letters between the two writers, The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, have become one of lesbian history’s most treasured works, and Virginia’s novel Orlando was inspired by Vita.

They met in 1922 and were friends for a few years before the relationship turned sexual, as faithfully documented in Virginia's diaries. Although the affair ended in 1927 or 1928, they remained close friends.


The Swedish Parliament
2009 -
The Swedish Parliament was presented with legislation that would allow Gay couples to marry in civil ceremonies or in the Lutheran Church, which until 2000 was the official church of Sweden. "The main proposal in the motion is that ... a person's gender will no longer have any bearing on whether they can marry. The marriage law and other laws concerning spouses will be rendered gender neutral according to the proposal," a statement from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's conservative Moderates said.
 
The proposal had wide backing in parliament and is expected to be adopted, though a date has yet to be set for a vote.
While heterosexuals in Sweden can choose to marry in either a civil ceremony or a church ceremony, homosexuals are currently only allowed to register their "partnerships" in a civil ceremony. Civil unions granting gays and Lesbians the same legal status as married couples have been allowed in Sweden since 1995. If the new legislation is adopted, Sweden, already a pioneer in giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, would become the first country in the world to allow gay people to marry within a major Church. Under the proposal, Lutheran pastors will be able to opt-out of performing Gay marriages if they have personal objections.

2009 -

ABC television station in Los Angeles refused to air a Public Service Announcement about Gay families claiming it was "too controversial" to run during inauguration coverage. KABC-TV in Los Angeles refused to run public service announcements from Get To Know Us First, a group that promotes acceptance of LGBT families.  2009 people...less than ten years ago.


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