Today in Gay History

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December 07

Willa Cather
1873 -

WILLA CATHER, American novelist, was born (d. 1947); An eminent American author known for her depictions of U.S. life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Cather was a classic tomboy, known as “Willie” for most of her childhood. Her novels are stories of strong people caught in small lives and the struggle of the artist in society. She never admitted to being a Lesbian. But all of her meaningful relationships were with strong, independent women. Her first romantic affair was at the turn of the century with Louise Pound.

Few writers have taken such pains to destroy as much evidence of their private lives as did Cather. She believed, genuinely perhaps, that an author biography was unimportant, that only events or people in a life that relate to incidents or characters in an author’s works were relevant and worth saving. In her will she ordered that her letters were not to be quoted. She burned all the correspondence between her and the woman who is believed to have been her lover between 1901 and 1915, Isabelle McClung which may have had more to do with the fact that McClung left her to marry a man than an effort, as has been thought, to disguise her personal life.

She saw to it that her official biography was to be written by the friend who succeeded Isabelle McClung, Edith Lewis, thus assuring that only what was relevant (i.e. “correct”) was told. All of this would actually be admirable – after all, one does not need to know Shakespeare’s biography (and we don’t) to appreciate his works – if it were not for the fact, after all benefits of doubt are accorded, that such fastidious people who burn their papers generally have something to hide that in their time is considered wrong. In a sense, Willa Cather needn’t have gone to so much trouble, for what little remains of the effects of her life clearly reveal her to have been a Lesbian anyway. The only way to hide is never to have been born at all. Cather and Lewis are buried together in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Her will forbids any of her books being turned into screenplays and any anthologizing of her work.

Thornton Wilder
1975 -

THORNTON WILDER, American playwright died (b. 1897); In 1926 Wilder's first novel The Cabala was published. In 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey brought him commercial success and his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928. From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the University of Chicago.

In 1938 he won the Pulitzer for drama for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. World War II saw him rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Force and he received several awards. He went on to be a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii and to teach poetry at Harvard. Though he considered himself a teacher first and a writer second, he continued to write all his life, receiving the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1957 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. In 1967 he won the National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day. He died in his sleep, December 7, 1975 in Hamden, Connecticut, where he had been living with his sister, Isabel, for many years.

Wilder had a wide circle of friends and enjoyed mingling with other famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Montgomery Clift and Gertrude Stein. (Sensing any patterns here?) Although he never discussed his sexuality publicly or in his writings, his close friend Samuel M. Steward is generally acknowledged to have been his lover. This relationship is explored in the fascinating  biography of Steward, AKA Phil Andros, written by Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor , Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade

For more on Secret Historian:

Wilder’s father, Amos Wilder was a stern, teetotaling Congregationalist who expected his son to be scholar-athlete and a muscular Christian. When Thornton announced that he had been cast as Lady Bracknell in a school production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the senior Wilder informed him that he would rather that Thornton not play female roles. Papa would not absolutely forbid it, but he assumed that his son would want to honor his father’s wishes. Thornton reluctantly conceded, but later wrote to his father in China, “When you have changed your mind as to it, please notify.”

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
1941 -

WORLD WAR II: The Attack on Pearl Harbor - The Imperial Japanese Navy attacks the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending Army Air Forces and Marine air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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