Today in Gay History

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January 23

Franklin Pangborn
1893 -

The professional "pansy" actor FRANKLIN PANGBORN was born in Newark, New Jersey. If you don't know the name you've seen his work in old late late show movies. The character actor appeared in dozens of comedies always playing prissy, fluttery clerks, bank tellers, assistant hotel managers, and department store floorwalkers. He appeared in many Preston Sturges movies as well as  the W.C. Fields films "International House," "The Bank Dick,"  and "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break." Pangborn was an effective foil for many major comedians, including Fields, Harold Lloyd, Olsen and Johnson, and The Ritz Brothers. He appeared regularly in comedies and musicals of the 1940s. When movie roles became scarce, he worked in television. For a time Pangborn was the announcer on Jack Paar's Tonight Show.

In his book "Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall", the film scholar Richard Barrios wrote that some people "will praise the artistry of Pangborn as they bemoan its misuse, while others will prefer to revel in both the subversiveness of it all and the actor's skill. Still others will just shut the whole matter out and deny that there were any Gay characters in film prior to the late 1960s."

In his essay, "Laughing Hysterically: Sex, Repression, and American Film Comedy," the scholar Ed Sikov argues that Pangborn probably appeared "in more screwball comedies than any other actor -- "My Man Godfrey", "Easy Living", "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife", "A Girl, a Guy and a Gob", "The Palm Beach Story", "Vivacious Lady", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Design for Living", "Joy of Living", "Topper Takes a Trip", and "Fifth Avenue Girl" -- probably because his character (the fussy, flustered, silly, and temperamental proto-gay male) fits perfectly into screwball's world of urban extremism. A deft comedian, Pangborn elevated effeminacy into an art form. He makes himself an object of mockery in film after film, but he never gives up his dignity."

Pangborn died on July 20, 1958 after undergoing surgery. For his contributions to motion pictures, He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

Sergei Eisenstein
1898 -

The Russian filmmaker, director, screenwriter, editor and theoretician SERGEI EISENSTEIN was born on this date (d. 1948). Eisenstein's personal life was chaotic. He married twice in response to political pressure, but his marriages were never consummated. His unexpurgated diaries, published as Immortal Memories, are filled with accounts of his infatuations with many young men, including his assistant, Grigori Alexandrov.

Often his infatuations (as in the case of Alexandrov) were with young heterosexual men, whom he would educate and assist in their careers. His drawings, exhibited during the centenary of his birth, include many illustrations of homosexual activity.

All through his career, he betrayed his orientation. Consider the semi-nude sailors below decks in the opening scenes of The Battleship Potemkin; the high-cheeked, cute blonds in the Novgorod sequences of Alexandr Nevsky and the good looking, shirtless Mexicans in the "Maguey" sequences in Que Viva Mexico!, and it becomes obvious that he had a yen for youthful males, not to mention the outrageously gay Oprichniki banquet toward the end of Ivan the Terrible, Part II.

Here, Ivan is seen cavorting with his Stalineque iron guard. The dance of Fyodor Basmanov is key: in the scene, Fyodor does a dance in which he frequently hides his face with a woman's mask. A bit later in the scene, the Tsar dresses his nephew, Vladimir, an effeminate young man (again, a beautiful blond), in the ruler's robes. Ivan coaxes him into entering the chapel -- and certain death from an assassin's blade. When the Oprichniki ask Ivan what they should do with the culprit, Ivan says no harm should come to him, "for he has killed the Tsar's worst enemy" (i.e. Ivan/Eisenstein's homosexuality).

Despite his difficulties with censorship and other problems, Eisenstein created a remarkable legacy. His films reveal his continued commitment to experimentation in form. Nevsky, his first sound film, contains spectacular scenes, most notably the Battle on the Ice, as well as the incomparably thrilling film score of Sergei Prokofiev.

L to R: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott
1898 -

On this date the American motion picture actor RANDOLPH SCOTT was born.Known for his roles in films as diverse as "Follow the Fleet", "The Last of the Mohicans," "High, Wide, and Handsome" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm"

Although Scott achieved fame as a motion picture actor, he managed to keep a fairly low profile with his private life. Off screen he became good friends with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. He met Grant on the set of Hot Saturday and shortly afterwards they began rooming together in a beach house in Malibu that became known as "Bachelor Hall." They would live together, on and off, for about ten years, presumably because they liked each other's company and wanted to save on living expenses (they were both considered notorious tightwads). As Scott shared "Bachelor Hall" with Cary Grant for twelve years, it was rumored that the two actors were romantically involved, and that the name "Bachelor Hall" and the reported parade of women there were invented by the studio who wanted to keep their valuable actors away from any public scandal.

In his book, Cary Grant: Grant's Secret Sixth Marriage, Marc Eliot claims Grant had a sexual relationship with Scott after they met on the set of "Hot Saturday" (1932). In his book, Hollywood Gays, Boze Hadleigh, author of numerous books purporting to reveal the sexual orientation of celebrities, makes various claims for Scott's homosexuality. He cites Gay director George Cukor who said about the homosexual relationship between the two: "Oh, Cary won't talk about it. At most, he'll say they did some wonderful pictures together. But Randolph will admit it – to a friend." According to William J. Mann's book, Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969, photographer Jerome Zerbe spent "three Gay months" in the movie colony taking many photographs of Grant and Scott, "attesting to their involvement in the Gay scene." In 1995, Richard Blackwell published his autobiography From Rags to Bitches, where he declared he was lovers to both Cary Grant and Scott.

Samuel Barber
1910 -

On this date the American composer SAMUEL BARBER was born. A prolific composer of music ranging from orchestral, to opera, choral, and piano music, Barber is probably best known for his "Adagio for Strings" which was an immediate success after being performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in 1938. Toscanini had very rarely performed music by American composers before. At the end of the first rehearsal of the piece, Toscanini remarked: "Semplice e bella" ("simple and beautiful"). Barber was 28 years old at the time. The composition would became an important piece of the 20th century classical repetoire. It has been heard in films such as Platoon, The Elephant Man, El Norte, Amélie, Lorenzo's Oil and Reconstruction. In 1945, it was played at the funeral of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

The great love of Barber's life was probably the composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The two met when Barber was 18 years old and Menotti arrived at the Curtis Institute, where Barber was a student. Menotti and Barber instantly found a connection, one which started as a shared passion for similar music styles and drifted slowly into a passionate sexual relationship. Around the campus, their "close relationship" was well known. But this was an artistic institute and few of the other students cared for prejudice. With all minds, eyes and ears focused on music, the boys were able to conduct a blossoming relationship undisturbed.

After leaving the Curtis Institute, Barber and Menotti travelled around Europe after Barber won a Pulitzer Travel Grant and the award was immediately followed by another; the American Prix de Rome, allowing him to study at the American Academy, itself based in Rome. It was there that Barber was to produce one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, the Adagio for Strings.

With the Adagio's near immediate success there came recording contracts and several commissions. When war broke out, the couple both managed to avoid active service, Menotti through his Italian nationality, Barber by joining the band of the American Air Corps. After the war was over, the couple bought a large house in New York with the intention of living and writing there together for the rest of their lives. Barber continued to work on choral pieces as well as his symphonies. Barber would win two Pulitzers, for a piano concerto and for an opera based on a libretto by Menotti.

Although his work was on a high, Barber found it hard to live up to the early success of the Adagio and he eventually slipped into a deep depression. He split with his long-term partner Menotti and moved to Switzerland, living in almost total seclusion. Menotti moved to other successes and eventually married.

Barber died of cancer in 1981 in New York City at the age of 70. In fact, he died on his birthday. Menotti was at his side when Barber died.

Gary Burton
1943 -

Today's the birthday of American Jazz musician and composer GARY BURTON.  He was born in Anderson, Indiana and made his recording debut at the age of 17.  The vibraphonist has worked with famous musicians as George Shearing, Stan Getz, Chick Corea and Astor Piazzola.

Early in his career, at the behest of noted Nashville saxophonist Boots Randolph, Burton moved to Nashville and recorded with several notable Nashville musicians including guitarist Hank Garland, pianist Ffloyd Cramer and guitarist Chet Atkins.

After touring both the U.S. and Japan with pianist George Shearing in 1963, Burton went on to play with saxophonist Stan Getz from 1964 to 1966. It was during this time with the Stan Getz Quartet that Burton appeared with the band in a feature film, "Get Yourself a College Girl", playing "Girl From Ipanema" with Astrud Gilberto. In 1967 he formed the Gary Burton Quartet along with guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Steve Swallow. Predating the jazz-rock craze of the 1970s, the group's first record, Duster, combined jazz, country and rock and roll elements. However, some of Burton's previous albums (notably Tennessee Firebird and Time Machine, both from 1966) had already shown his inclination toward such experimentation with different genres of popular music. After Coryell left the quartet in the late-1960s, Burton hired a number of well-regarded guitarists: Jerry Hahn, David Pritchard, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkel and most recently Julian Lange, who played guitar in Burton's group Next Generation.

Burton was named Down Beat magazine's 'Jazzman of the Year' in 1968 (the youngest ever to receive the title) and won his first Grammy award in 1972. The following year Burton began a now 40-year-long collaboration with pianist Chick Corea, recognized for popularizing the format of jazz duet performance. Their eight recordings together won the pair Grammy awards in years 1979, 1981, 1997, 1999, and most recently in 2009, for The New Crystal Silence and in 2013, for Hot House. Burton has a total of 21 Grammy nominations and 7 Grammy wins.

Burton has played with a wide variety of jazz musicians, including Carla Bley, Hank Garland, Gato Barbieri, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Steve Lacy, Pat Metheny, Mackoto Ozone, Tiger Okoshi, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King, Stephane Grappelli and tangl legend, Astor Piazzolla.

Following an early marriage in his 20's, Burton married for a second time 1975-84 to Catherine Goldwyn, granddaughter of film producer Samuel Goldwyn (1879–1974). They have two children, Stephanie and Sam, and one grandchild.

By the 1980s, Burton was in a Gay relationship and he came out publicly in a 1994 radio interview with Terry Gross, making him one of rather few openly Gay jazz musicians of prominence. In 2013, he married his long time partner, Jonathan Chong.

Charley Eugene Johns
1994 -

One of the most infamous hateful racist homophobes and general misanthropes Charley Eugene Johns died on this date and was rendered incapable of harming others (b. 1905). Johns was an American politician and the thirty-second governor of Florida from 1953 to 1955.

Why cover Johns in a daily list of Gay Wisdom? Because most of us don't know this history and it's important to know what happened so it doesn't happen again. (We won't honor their birth date but we'll mark their date of departure.)

Johns is most remembered for his support and chairmanship of the infamous Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, nicknamed the "Johns Committee" because of Johns' chairmanship. This committee participated in the Red Scare and Lavender scare by investigating communists, homosexuals, and civil rights advocates among the students and faculty of Florida's university system. They were responsible for revoking teachers' certificates and firing university professors. By 1963, the committee had forced the dismissal or resignation of over 100 professors and deans at the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida. One professor attempted suicide after being investigated by the committee.

The state legislature ended funding for the committee in 1964 after it released a report called Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, which infamously became known as the "Purple Pamphlet". Its many photographs depicting homosexual acts outraged legislators and reportedly copies of the report were being sold as pornography in New York City.  The Johns Committee lost its funding from the legislature following the publication of the Purple Pamphlet.

In 2005, UF Today, an alumni publication of the University of Florida, included Johns in a list of 81 "outstanding" UF alumni. Johns attended UF only for a few months and did not graduate. The editor apologized for the error, and the alumni association said that including him was a mistake.

Alfredo Ormando
1998 -

On this date the Italian writer ALFREDO ORMANDO died (b. 1958).  How did he die?  Eleven days before this date he set himself on fire in the Vatican to protest the church's treatment of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people.

Ormando's only published book was the novel Il Fratacchione ("The Overweight Monk"), which recounted his two years at a monastery attempting to get closer to God and to purify himself of "unclean" desires. The narrator in the book states, "It isn't true that gay is beautiful. On the contrary, it is a continual death on the inside. Either you accept being gay, or you kill yourself."

On January 13, 1998, Ormando set himself on fire in St. Peter's Square close to where Pope John Paul II was addressing the crowds. Two policemen tried to extinguish the flames, and he was taken to hospital with third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body. He died 11 days later. Ormando was 39 years old. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "I hope they will understand the message I want to give - it is a form of protest against a Church that demonizes homosexuality, demonizing nature at the same time; despite the fact that homosexuality is a child of nature".

2009 -

On this date The Washington Post reported that the Maryland state police considered the LGBT activism group Equality Maryland to be terrorists. 

Equality Maryland, the state's largest Gay rights group, was among the peaceful protest groups to be classified as terrorists in a Maryland State Police database. The group was designated a "security threat" by the Homeland Security and Intelligence Division, which also kept dossiers on dozens of activists and at least a dozen groups.

Police kept files on Equality Maryland's plans to hold rallies outside the State House in Annapolis to press for legislation reversing the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Police planned to purge the files.

The files were revealed at a news conference, where a dozen Democratic lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation to prevent future surveillance of nonviolent groups. Police would need "reasonable articulated suspicion of actual criminal activity" before they could conduct surveillance, the legislation's sponsors said. Former Governor Martin O'Malley (D) also planned to call for a similar bill. The measure also would prevent police from keeping files on citizens, unless the information is part of a legitimate criminal investigation."

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