Today in Gay History

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January 16

Born
George Edward Kelly
1887 -

On this date GEORGE EDWARD KELLY was born in Philadelphia. Although better known as the uncle of the future Princess Grace of Monaco, Kelly was a successful Broadway playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor.Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for his play Craig's Wife. The play served as the basis for the 1950 Joan Crawford film Harriet Craig.

Notable actors who appeared in works by Kelly include Alison Skipworth, Josephine Hull, Lee Tracy, Tallulah Bankhead, Spring Byington, Joan Blondell, Ina Claire and Rosalind Russell.George maintained a fifty-five-year relationship with his lover William Weagley up until his death. Weagley was seemingly passed off often as George's valet. Although Weagley was not invited to the funeral, he managed to sneak inside and sat in a back pew, where he wept.


Francesco Scavullo in front of his portrait of Sting
1921 -

On this date the prominent and influential fashion photographer FRANCESCO SCAVULLO was born. Best known for his work on the covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine and his celebrity portraits, Scavullo big break was working at Vogue magazine under well-known fashion photographers Cecil Beaton, John Rawlings, and Horst P. Horst. But the major turning point in his career came in 1965 when Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown hired him to help develop a new and sexier image for the magazine.

With free rein to select the models, wardrobe, make-up, and hair styling, Scavullo successfully created the image of the modern day Cosmo girl. Scavullo was also responsible for the famous Cosmopolitan centerfold of a nude Burt Reynolds. Scavullo would go on to shoot every Cosmopolitan cover over the next three decades.

Beginning in 1972, he was assisted by Sean M. Byrne, who also became his life partner. Scavullo also created memorable shots for various movie posters and Broadway shows, including one for A Star is Born (featuring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), as well as a portrait of Julie Andrews for Blake Edwards' Victor Victoria.

He was also popular throughout his career for his celebrity portraits with many becoming iconic pieces and symbols of pop culture.In 2004 Scavullo died of heart failure while on his way to a photo shoot with a then up-and-coming CNN news anchor, Anderson Cooper.


Susan Sontag portrait by Annie Leibovitz
1933 -

The essayist, activist, novelist & intellectual SUSAN SONTAG was born (d: 2009). Sontag is remembered for her critical essays on photography and on camp. She was also a champion for gay rights in repressive countries like Cuba.

Sontag was active in writing and speaking about, or travelling to, areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology. Her often provocative essays and speeches sometimes drew criticism. The New York review of Books called her "one of the most influential critics of her generation."

Sontag's literary career began and ended with works of fiction. While working on her fiction, Sontag taught philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College and City University of New York and the philosophy of Religion under Jacob Taubes in the Religion Department at Columbia University from 1960 to 1964. Sontag held a writing fellowship at Rutgers for 1964 to 1965 before ending her relationship with academia in favor of full-time, freelance writing.

At age 30, she published an experimental novel called The Benefactor (1963), following it four years later with Death Kit (1967). Despite a relatively small output, Sontag thought of herself principally as a novelist and writer of fiction. Her short story “The Way We Live Now" was published to great acclaim in The New Yorker. November 26, 1986. Written in an experimental narrative style, it remains a significant text on the AIDS epidemic. She achieved late popular success as a best-selling novelist with The Volcano Lover (1992). At age 67, Sontag published her final novel In America (2000). The last two novels were set in the past, which Sontag said gave her greater freedom to write in the polyphonic voice.

She wrote and directed four films and also wrote several plays, the most successful of which were Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea.

It was through her essays that Sontag gained early fame and notoriety. Sontag wrote frequently about the intersection of high and low art and expanded the dichotomy concept of form and art in every media. She elevated "Camp" to the status of recognition with her widely-read 1964 essay Notes on Camp, which accepted Art as including common, absurd and burlesque themes. It expounded the "so bad it's good" concept of popular culture for the first time.

During 1989 Sontag was the President of PEN American Center, the main U.S. branch of the International PEN writers' organization. After Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa death sentence against writer Salman Rushdie for blasphemy after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses that year, Sontag's uncompromising support of Rushdie was critical in rallying American writers to his cause.

Sontag was quoted by Editor-in-Chief Brendan Lemon of OUT magazine as saying "I grew up in a time when the modus operandi was the ‘open secret'. I'm used to that, and quite OK with it. Intellectually, I know why I haven't spoken more about my sexuality, but I do wonder if I haven't repressed something there to my detriment. Maybe I could have given comfort to some people if I had dealt with the subject of my private sexuality more, but it's never been my prime mission to give comfort, unless somebody's in drastic need. I'd rather give pleasure, or shake things up.” Annie Liebowitz, her partner of many years, documented Sontag's courageous battle with cancer. She died in 2004.


Christopher Hampton
1946 -

Today is the birthday of the British dramatist CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON. Best known for his play Dangerous Liaisons which was later made into a movie by that name.


Jill Sobule
1961 -

Today is also the birthday of Bisexual singer-songwriter JILL SOBULE.  Born in Denver). Sobule is best known for the 1995 song "I Kissed a Girl," her folk-inflected compositions alternate between ironic, story-driven character studies and emotive ballads, a duality reminiscent of such 1970s American songwriters as Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. A central preoccupation of her work is the classic one: "Love found, love lost, love wished for and love taken away."


Aldo Alvarez
1965 -

Today is the birthday of poet, writer and teacher ALDO ALVAREZ.  Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, he's the author of Interesting Monsters: Fictions (Graywolf Press). He teaches English full time at Wilbur Wright College and, on occasion, creative writing at Northwestern University's MFA program. He has a Ph.D. in English from SUNY Binghamton and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. He's currently on sabbatical and working on a book of poems.


Died
L to R: George Merrill and Edward Carpenter
1928 -

GEORGE MERRILL, who died on this date (b: 1867) was the life partner of Edward Carpenter, an English utopian socialist, poet, philosopher and early activist for gay rights.

Merrill was a working-class man who was born and grew up in the slums of Sheffield; he had no formal education. He met Edward Carpenter on a train in 1891, and moved into Carpenter's home, a small holding at Millthorpe, Derbyshire, in February 1898, when Carpenter's previous domestic help, George Adams and his family, moved out when Adams retired. Merrill arrived at Millthorpe in a blizzard, "trundling with the help of two boys all his worldly goods in a handcart over the hills, and through a disheartening blizzard of snow." His arrival was commemorated by Carpenter in the poem "Hafiz to the Cupbearer", part of Carpenter's Towards Democracy which was published in stages between 1882 and 1902.

Merrill had previously worked in a newspaper office, a hotel, and in an ironworks. He was always officially Carpenter's servant, and he undertook the cooking and cleaning in the home, decorating and placing flowers in every room. Carpenter noted that "George in fact was accepted and one may say beloved by both my manual worker friends and my more aristocratic friends." He had a fine baritone voice and liked to sing comical songs.

The two lived openly as a couple for almost forty years, until Merrill's death in 1928. Carpenter died the following year and was buried beside Merrill at the Mount Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey.

The relationship between Carpenter and Merrill was the inspiration for E. M. Forster's novel Maurice, and the character of the gamekeeper Alec Scudder was in part modelled after George Merrill. The novelist D. H. Lawrence read the manuscript of Maurice, which was not published until after Forster's death. The manuscript and Carpenter and Merrill's rural lifestyle influenced Lawrence's 1928 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, which also involves a gamekeeper becoming the lover of a member of the upper classes. Merrill and Carpenter are featured in William di Canzio's homage to Maurice, Alec when Alec and Maurice elope to the countryside.


Noteworthy
2008 -

On this date Moroccan courts imprisoned six people for allegedly taking part in a gay wedding. and Cameroon sentenced three men to six months hard labor for alleged homosexuality.


2018 -

You Can Look It Up: Today isHot and Spicy Food International Day and National Nothing Day


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