Today in Gay History

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October 04

Marie Corelli
1864 -

Today we mark the life of the English novelist MARIE CORELLI.  No precise date is available because she was adopted in infancy by the poet Charles MacKay. Corelli was the Jacqueline Susann of the Victorian era. She was a master at tickling the Victorian libido while remaining primly moral. Instead of multiple orgasms there was a great deal of nostril-flaring in her books. The Prince of Wales, who preferred flaring his own nostrils to reading about it, was one of her great fans as was the Queen V herself, who literary taste ran to the more common.

She became enormously rich, and helping her to spend her great literary fortune was her life-long lover, Bertha Vyver, whom Corelli called "Mamasita" and "Darling Ber." Big Ber called Corelli "Little Girl." All but one of her biographers agree that besides hugging each other a lot and combing one another's hair, which was about the limit of permissible behavior in Victorian "romantic friendships" they most certainly flared nostrils together, which was not.

The story is told that while in Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde was bothered by a prison guard who considered himself a literary connoisseur. One day he asked Wilde if he considered Marie Corelli a "great writer." Said Wilde, "Now don't think I have anything against her moral character, but from the way she writes, she ought to be here."

C.A. Tripp
1919 -

On this date the psychologist, writer and gay historian C.A. TRIPP was born (d. 2003). Born Clarence Arthur Tripp in Denton, Texas, Tripp studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and was a Naval Veteran. Tripp worked with Alfred Kinsey at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Indiana from 1948 to 1956. He earned a Ph.D. in Clinical psychology from New York University.

Tripp originally intended to spend his life as a photographer. Born in Denton, TX, he left home to master the art and science of photography at the Kodak Institute in Rochester, NY, and earned money taking headshots and promotional photos for the theater industry. In 1948, however, this path branched away when he was hired as a photographer by the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. Here, he was introduced to the field of psychology and became intrigued with Kinsey's study of sex.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the director of the institute, eventually sponsored Tripp's application to New York University, where he earned a Ph.D. in psychology. After earning his degree, Dr. Tripp taught at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, he left to start a private psychotherapy practice and pursue his own independent research into the origins and variations of human sexuality.

After ten years, his research culminated in The Homosexual Matrix, a groundbreaking book that was among the first scholarly works to deal with homosexuality from a scientific perspective, relatively free from bias or moralizing. The huge success of The Homosexual Matrix brought Dr. Tripp on speaking tours across the country as well as on radio and television, but he continued to practice clinical psychology in his New York City office as well as at his home in Nyack, NY.

Although his book The Homosexual Matrix was an early classic for many gay men seeking information, he is best known for his book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which was published posthumously.

In the book Tripp details the evidence for Lincoln's attachments and sexual relationships with men throughout his life.  It's a powerful book that Tripp devoted the last decades of his life to writing.  It caused an understandable firestorm but also contributed greatly to the scholarship of the beloved president that had been ensconced in heterosexual wax of hagiography. A pretty interesting read all around.

Chris Lowe
1959 -

CHRIS LOWE, the British musician (Pet Shop Boys), was born today. For those in a cave the last 3 decades, Pet Shop Boys are an English synth/pop/pop music/electronic music duo, consisting of Neil Tennant who provides main vocals, keyboards and very occasionally guitar, and Chris Lowe on keyboards and occasionally on vocals. The duo write the vast majority of their songs and have also written songs for other artists.

They are considered one of the most creative and successful song-writing teams of the last 25 years and are long renowned by electronic music DJ's and fans as pioneers in synthesizer based music, in part for helping bring it to the mainstream audience. Neil Tennant is out Gay, although he refused to confirm rumors about his sexuality in the 1980s until finally coming out shortly after the release of 1993's Very in Attitude, a UK Gay lifestyle magazine. Lowe, meanwhile, has remained tight-lipped on the subject. The duo are sometimes incorrectly assumed to be a couple (in the 1990 biography Pet Shop Boys, Literally, Tennant recalls that even their ex-manager, Tom Watkins, was under this impression for a time).

Pet Shop Boys are seen as significant figures in Gay culture for such songs as "Can you forgive her?", "It's a sin" (for which Gay director Derek Jarman produced the video), "New York City Boy" and their cover of Village People's "Go West". They have written a song about a young male fan spending a night with a rapper, based on Eminem, called "The night I fell in love" and a song about coming out, "Metamorphosis".

The boys met Dusty Springfield at her lowest ebb and reinvigorated her career. Chris was a huge fan (“Dusty in Memphis”) so they took her back into the studio and recorded with her. Famously “Nothing Has Been Proved” for the film Scandal about the Profumo affair 

Their 1990s single "Being Boring" dealt with the Gay experience and the devastation wrought by the AIDS crisis; the song (and its supporting video, filmed by Bruce Weber), remains one of their most popular.  However, Neil Tennant has stated many times that his lyrics are not specifically Gay. Many of their songs are written from an ambiguous view point that can be taken any way the listener perceives it, and this goes some way to explain why a large segment of their die-hard fans are heterosexual.

Janis Joplin
1970 -

On this date JANIS JOPLIN, American singer died (b. 1943) influential singer, songwriter, and music arranger. She grew up in a conservative Port Arthur, Texas, and it was because of her talent for singing the blues standards that she rose to fame in the 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company and eventually a solo career before her death from a drug overdose. She was one of the most popular and influential singers of the sixties and is considered to be one of the greatest female rockers of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin #46 on their list of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Graham Chapman
1989 -

GRAHAM CHAPMAN, the English comedian, actor, writer, physician and one of the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe, died on this date (b. 1941) He was also the lead actor in their two narrative films, playing King Arthur in Month Python and the Holy Grail and the title character in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Chapman kept his sexuality secret until the mid 1970s when he famously came out on a chat show hosted by British jazz musician George Melly, thus becoming one of the first celebrities to do so. Several days later, he came out to a group of friends at a party held at his home in Belsize Park where he officially introduced them to his partner, David Sherlock, whom he had met in Ibiza in 1966, and subsequently raised their son, John Tomiczek, together.

After Chapman made his sexuality public, a member of the television audience wrote to the Pythons to complain that she had heard a member of the team was Gay, and included in the letter a Biblical passage calling for all homosexuals to be stoned to death. With fellow Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Eric Idle replied, "We've found out who he was and we've taken him out and stoned him."

Chapman was a vocal spokesman for Gay rights, and in 1972 he lent his support to the fledgling newspaper Gay News, which publicly acknowledged his financial and editorial support by listing him as one of its `special friends.' Among Chapman's closest friends were Keith Moon of The Who, singer Harry Nillson, and Beatle Ringo Starr. Asteroid 9617 Grahamchapman, named in Chapman's honor, is the first in a series of six asteroids carrying the names of members of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

A memorial service was held for Chapman in December 1989 in the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew's. John Cleese delivered the eulogy (see below); after his initial remarks, he said of his former colleague "…good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries!", and then pointed out that Chapman would have been disappointed if Cleese passed on the opportunity to scandalize the audience. He explained that Chapman would have been offended had Cleese, the first person to say "shit" on British television, not used Chapman's own funeral as an opportunity to also become the first person at a British memorial service to use the word "fuck". Afterward, Cleese joined Gilliam, Jones, and Palin along with Chapman's other friends as Idle led them in a rendition of "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" from the film Monty Python's Life of Brian.

On December 31, 1999 Chapman's ashes were rumored to have been "blasted into the skies in a rocket.", though in actual fact, Sherlock scattered Chapman's ashes on Snowdon, North Wales on June 18, 2005.

Today's Gay Wisdom
Monty Python
2017 -

John Cleese's Eulogy for Graham Chapman

Widely considered one of the most notable eulogies of the last century, here is Cleese's eulogy for Graham Chapman:

Graham Chapman, co-author of the 'Parrot Sketch,' is no more.

He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky, and I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only forty-eight, before he'd achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun.

Well, I feel that I should say, "Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries. "

And the reason I think I should say this is, he would never forgive me if I didn't, if I threw away this opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him but mindless good taste. I could hear him whispering in my ear last night as I was writing this:

"Alright, Cleese, you're very proud of being the first person to ever say 'shit' on television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want you to be the first person ever at a British memorial service to say 'fuck'!"

You see, the trouble is, I can't. If he were here with me now I would probably have the courage, because he always emboldened me. But the truth is, I lack his balls, his splendid defiance. And so I'll have to content myself instead with saying 'Betty Mardsen...'

But bolder and less inhibited spirits than me follow today. Jones and Idle, Gilliam and Palin. Heaven knows what the next hour will bring in Graham's name. Trousers dropping, blasphemers on pogo sticks, spectacular displays of high-speed farting, synchronized incest. One of the four is planning to stuff a dead ocelot and a 1922 Remington typewriter up his own arse to the sound of the second movement of Elgar's cello concerto. And that's in the first half.

Because you see, Gray would have wanted it this way. Really. Anything for him but mindless good taste. And that's what I'll always remember about him---apart, of course, from his Olympian extravagance. He was the prince of bad taste. He loved to shock. In fact, Gray, more than anyone I knew, embodied and symbolized all that was most offensive and juvenile in Monty Python. And his delight in shocking people led him on to greater and greater feats. I like to think of him as the pioneering beacon that beat the path along which fainter spirits could follow.

Some memories. I remember writing the undertaker speech with him, and him suggesting the punch line, 'All right, we'll eat her, but if you feel bad about it afterwards, we'll dig a grave and you can throw up into it.' I remember discovering in 1969, when we wrote every day at the flat where Connie Booth and I lived, that he'd recently discovered the game of printing four-letter words on neat little squares of paper, and then quietly placing them at strategic points around our flat, forcing Connie and me into frantic last minute paper chases whenever we were expecting important guests.

I remember him at BBC parties crawling around on all fours, rubbing himself affectionately against the legs of gray-suited executives, and delicately nibbling the more appetizing female calves. Mrs. Eric Morecambe remembers that too.

I remember his being invited to speak at the Oxford union, and entering the chamber dressed as a carrot—a full length orange tapering costume with a large, bright green sprig as a hat—and then, when his turn came to speak, refusing to do so. He just stood there, literally speechless, for twenty minutes, smiling beatifically. The only time in world history that a totally silent man has succeeded in inciting a riot.

I remember Graham receiving a Sun newspaper TV award from Reggie Maudling. Who else! And taking the trophy falling to the ground and crawling all the way back to his table, screaming loudly, as loudly as he could. And if you remember Gray, that was very loud indeed.

It is magnificent, isn't it? You see, the thing about shock... is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation, as we realized in that instant that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.

Well, Gray can't do that for us anymore. He's gone. He is an ex-Chapman. All we have of him now is our memories. But it will be some time before they fade.

The video of Cleese delivering the eulogy can be seen online here:

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