Today in Gay History

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February 27

Born
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene
0500 BCE -

6th Century BCESAPPHO, Greek lyric poet, born; Of course, this is another one of those dates that is arbitrary. Called “the Tenth Muse” by no less than Plato, Sappho was the greatest of all the early Greek lyric poets.

Facts about her life are understandably scant, but not scant enough to let stand the nonsense about her having thrown herself into the sea from the Leucadian promontory in consequence of her advances having been rejected by the beautiful youth, Phaon.

The aristocratic Sappho was completely self-contained in her love for other women. Phaon may have been beautiful, but he was a commoner and a male. For these reasons, Sappho wouldn’t have touched him even if he had a ten-foot pole. That someone in ancient times decided that what Sappho really needed was a good man, and tacked this phony ending on her story, is only too typical of the male reaction to the fact of Lesbians over the centuries.


Elizabeth Taylor, Goddess
1932 -

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, British-American actress, born (d: 2011); A two-time Academy award-winning English-American actress. Known for her acting skills and beauty, as well as her Hollywood lifestyle including many marriages, she was considered one of the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden years, as well as a larger-than-life celebrity. The American Film Institute named Taylor seventh among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. Seventh!?

True to her devotion to friends and Gay friends in particular, Taylor devoted much time and energy to HIV/AIDS-related charities and fundraising. She helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) after the death of her former co-star and friend, Rock Hudson. She also created her own AIDS foundation, Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF). By 1999, she had helped to raise an estimated $50 million to fight AIDS. She is probably one of the most fearless celebrity friends the gay community has ever known. Her friendships with Hudson, and other famous Gay men of Hollywood are legendary. As Taylor puts it, "I have had everything. I've had my share of joy, pain, luck and rough times. ... I've been back and forth like a yo-yo. I hope I've learned from all the experiences I've had."


Columnist-journalist Deb Price
1958 -

DEB PRICE, born on this date (d: 2020), was the first nationally syndicated lesbian columnist who wrote regularly about gay life and covered many of the issues confronting LGBT people like gay people in the military.

Price attended the National Cathedral School in Washington, graduating in 1976 and initially went to college at the University of Michigan. She found Michigan too cold for her taste and transferredto Stanford where she earned a  Master's degree in English.

After stints at tThe Northern Virginia Sun and the States News Service, which covered Washington news for dozens of papers, she joined the Washington Post in 1984 where she met her future wife, Joyce Murdoch.

She was working in the Washington Buereau of The Detroit News when she proposeda column from gay perspectives. Seeking to de-mystify gay people to the larger population Price's column addressed issues large and small. She was as likely to write about every day domesticity as she was about gays in the military. Perhaps she and her wife had bickered over getting airconditioning in their new convertible or she might spend a column gardening. She wrote one whole column about attending her wife's high school reunion.  Her first column mused about how she should introduce Ms. Murdoch (girlfriend? lover?)

As a couple they produced two well-received books, "And Say Hi to Joyce:America's First Gay Columnist Comes Out" And "Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v the Supreme Court".

Ms. Price continued her column until 2010 when she received a Nieman Scholarship to study at Harvard. She subsequently received an academic appointment in Hong Kong, where the couple relocated. Long interested in business and finance, she worked for The Asian Wall Street Journal and went on to become managing editor of Caizin Global, an independent financial publication in China. She died in Hong Kong due to interstitial pneumonitis. The hospital, recognizing her as family, allowed Murdoch to stay with her wife for the last eleven weeks of her life.


Died
Designer Orry-Kelly
1964 -

ORRY-KELLY was the professional name of Orry George Kelly, an Australian-American Hollywood costume designer who died on this date (b: 1897); Until being overtaken by Catherine Martin in 2014, he was Australia's most prolific Oscar winner, having won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design.

Orry-Kelly journeyed to New York City to pursue an acting career and shared an apartment in Greenwich Village with Charles Phelps (also known as Charlie Spangles) and Cary Grant, with whom, he wrote, he had an on-again, off-again relationship until the 1930s. A job painting murals in a nightclub led to his employment by Fox East Coast studios illustrating titles. He designed costumes and sets for Broadway's Shubert Revues and George White's Scandals. He served with the United States Army Air Corps during World War II until being discharged for alcohol problems.

After moving to Hollywood in 1932, Orry-Kelly was hired by Warner Bros. as their chief costume designer and he remained there until 1944. He was encouraged to hyphenate his name for film credits in order to appear more exotic. Later, his designs were also seen in films at Universal, RKO, 20th Century Fox, and MGM studios. He won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design (for An American in ParisLes Girls, and Some Like It Hot) and was nominated for a fourth (for Gypsy). In addition to his film work he was also a portrait artist and was permitted to undertake private commissions for gowns and ready to wear dresses.

Orry-Kelly worked on many films now considered classics, including 42nd StreetThe Maltese FalconCasablancaArsenic and Old LaceHarveyOklahoma!Auntie Mame, and Some Like It Hot. He designed for all the great actresses of the day, including Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Ruth Chatterton, Marilyn Monroe, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Dolores del Río, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, and Merle Oberon.

Orry-Kelly was known for his ability to "design for distraction" to compensate for difficult figure shapes. When Orry-Kelly was first assigned to films with Kay Francis they would dissect her parts. She would be dressed in opposition to the role, with the traditional femme fatale or manipulative character in frills and the honest heroine in a tailored, classic suit. Orry-Kelly would apply this aesthetic in the creation of gowns for a number of Bette Davis's characters as well. 

Orry-Kelly also had the job of creating clothes for the cross-dressing characters played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. His skill is shown by the fact that while Some Like It Hot was in production, Curtis and Lemmon would go into the ladies' room after eating lunch without being spotted as men. He wrote that when he finished draping Dolores del Río in white jersey, "she became a Greek goddess ... she was incredibly beautiful". The elegant clothes he designed for Bergman's character in Casablanca have been described as "pitch perfect".

In addition to designing, Kelly wrote a column, "Hollywood Fashion Parade", for the International News Service, owned by William Randolph Hearst, during the years of World War II. Kelly's memoirs, entitled Women I've Undressed were discovered in the care of a relative, as a result of publicity surrounding Gillian Armstrong's 2015 documentary on Kelly, Women He's Undressed. The memoir was published for the first time in 2015.

A longtime alcoholic, Orry-Kelly died of liver cancer in Hollywood in 1964 at the age of 66 and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills. His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack L. Warner. He had no living relatives when he died so his personal effects and Academy Awards were stored by Ann Warner, wife of his friend and former boss, Jack. The Oscars were among the items in an exhibition entitled Orry-Kelly: Dressing Hollywood, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in August 2015.


First Mattachine meeting. L to R: Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, unidentified-member, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Paul-Bernhard. Photo: John Gruber
2011 -

JOHN GRUBER, the last surviving original member of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest homophile organizations in the United States, died peacefully in his home in Santa Clara at the age of 82 (b: 1928). James Finley Gruber, Jr. was born in Des Moines, Iowa. A boy scout at 13, Gruber described himself as a “typical teenager” who enjoyed relations with both men and women, and considered himself bisexual. His unpublished manuscript, “The Deviant: an Illustrated Autobiography,” chronicles his life across the 20th century year by year, including references to movies, books, songs, newspaper clippings, and images of current events, movie stars, and family photographs. His father was a vaudeville performer and music instructor who, in his search for work, moved the family to Los Angeles in 1936. Enthralled with the glamour that Hollywood offered, the good-looking young man took acting, music and dancing lessons.

In 1946, at the age of 18, Gruber enlisted in the U.S. Marines where, in close physical proximity to men for the first time, he “went bananas in the sex department.” He enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers, even as he continued to have affairs with women, and was honorably discharged in 1949.

Gruber majored in English Literature at Occidental College and in 1950 met Christopher Isherwood, who was to become a close friend and role model. “Chris was the man I aspired to be.” Chris introduced Gruber to W.H. Auden, who was impressed that John had read his work. Chris also introduced Gruber to his landlady, Evelyn Hooker, a therapist and professor of psychiatry at UCLA whose pioneering research on gay men contributed to a change in the attitudes of the psychological community towards homosexuality, leading to the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its handbook of disorders, and an increased acceptance by society at large.

Isherwood, working for various Hollywood studios, introduced Gruber into the heady world of Hollywood, inviting him to be his date on opening night of the play I am a Camera, based on his novel The Berlin Stories. He met Jayne Mansfield, who “made me tingle in the swimsuit area,” and remembered “watching Marilyn Monroe on a movie set one summer day reading War and Peace hidden behind a propped-up comic book.”

In April 1951, primarily as a social adventure, Gruber and his boyfriend Konrad “Steve” Stevens became the last new members of the Mattachine Society. John later relived the atmosphere of the meetings, “All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, or repression. Just the freedom to open up…really, that’s what it was all about. We had found a sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of openness in an atmosphere of tension and distrust. … Such a great deal of it was a social climate. A family feeling came out of it, a nonsexual emphasis. … It was a brand-new idea.” John embraced his “newly chosen family,” even if he did not fully endorse its Communist underpinnings.

Gruber often recounted how the sole extant image of the Mattachine founding members came to be. At a Christmas party Gruber, clandestinely holding a camera, nonchalantly walked across the room and midway surreptitiously snapped the photo. Harry Hay heard the click and became incensed, because the meetings were covert and it was extremely dangerous to identify members. John reassured him that there was no film in the camera. The famous photograph features Konrad Stevens, Dale Jenning, Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull Chuck Rowland, Stan Witt, and Paul Bernard.

Gruber worked at KECA radio, created a motorcycle club called The Satyrs and dated both men and women. He eventually became disillusioned with his life in the Mattachine. “I can’t talk to Harry Hay anymore,” Gruber told Isherwood. “Harry doesn’t have conversations. He delivers lectures while I sit and listen.”

Repeated trips to San Francisco in the late 1950s motivated Gruber to say goodbye to Los Angeles, and in 1960 he moved to Palo Alto, renaming himself John. “It was the most effective way I could find to escape Mom’s ceaseless calling for ‘Jimmy!’ inside my head.”

He continued to pursue his career as a teacher at Foothill College and San Francisco State University, teaching and/or tutoring at Cubberly High School, Milpitas High School, de Anza College and other schools, interrupted by a short stint at Memorex. “I loved teaching. I fell in love with every kid I ever met.”

Identifying himself as “an unmarried alcoholic bisexual teacher,” he met Beth Erickson, who became a lifelong friend, eventually encouraging him to attend his first AA meeting in 1976. Newly sober, he “set out to become a successful novelist like my mentor.” In 1984 his battle cry was “God save us from the menace of the Rigid Right and the Religious Wrong.” Always deeply contemplative, Gruber maintained,  “The relationship you have with your inner self is the most important one of your life.”

On November 12, 1998, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Los Angeles bestowed Gruber a Public Service Award as a “pioneer and barrier breaker” in organizing the Gay and Lesbian Community. In 2000, John participated in a panel discussion at the San Francisco Public Library “Harry Hay and the Founding of the Mattachine Society: a 50th Anniversary Celebration,” and in 2006 donated his personal papers to the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library.

After retirement Gruber lived quietly in suburban Santa Clara, his deteriorating health keeping him increasingly close to home, where he died peacefully and painlessly on February 27, with his dear friend Nicholas Pisca at his side.

Gay historian Stuart Timmons, who had interviewed John for the seminal books The Trouble with Harry Hay and Gay LA,  “I will always remember John fondly, as the self described gargoyle on the cathedral of the Mattachine, no pushover.  He was a sweet and generous man.”

Gruber appears in the 2001 documentary Hope Along the Wind: the Life of Harry Hay directed by Eric Slade, who commented, “He was a wonderful man, I so enjoyed knowing him. I talked to him just a month or so ago. His famous Mattachine Society Christmas tree photo was just used in a book on gay liberation. I sent him a copy of the book and we talked about it. I'd hoped to see him on my upcoming visit. Truly the end of an era.”


Today's Gay Wisdom
Elizabeth Taylor sporting a terrycloth turban and the Krupp Diamond
2018 -

TODAY'S GAY WISDOM

 The Wit and Wisdom of Dame Elizabeth Taylor:

Big girls need big diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor

Everything makes me nervous - except making films. Elizabeth Taylor

I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can't possess radiance, you can only admire it.  Elizabeth Taylor

I am a very committed wife. And I should be committed too - for being married so many times. Elizabeth Taylor 

I don't pretend to be an ordinary housewife. Elizabeth Taylor 

I don't think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I'm not sure he even knows how to spell AIDS. Elizabeth Taylor

I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them. Elizabeth Taylor

I fell off my pink cloud with a thud. Elizabeth Taylor

I have a woman's body and a child's emotions. Elizabeth Taylor

I really don't remember much about Cleopatra. There were a lot of other things going on. Elizabeth Taylor

I suppose when they reach a certain age some men are afraid to grow up. It seems the older the men get, the younger their new wives get.  Elizabeth Taylor

I sweat real sweat and I shake real shakes. Elizabeth Taylor

I'm a survivor - a living example of what people can go through and survive. Elizabeth Taylor

I've always admitted that I'm ruled by my passions.  Elizabeth Taylor

I've been through it all, baby, I'm mother courage. Elizabeth Taylor

 SOME POEMS OF SAPPHO

Translated By Julia Dubnoff

            Immortal Aphrodite, on your intricately brocaded throne,

            child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, this I pray:

            Dear Lady, don’t crush my heart

            with pains and sorrows.

5          But come here, if ever before,

            when you heard my far-off cry,

            you listened. And you came,

            leaving your father’s house,

            yoking your chariot of gold.

10         Then beautiful swift sparrows led you over the black earth

            from the sky through the middle air,

            whirling their wings into a blur.

            Rapidly they came. And you, O Blessed Goddess,

            a smile on your immortal face,

15         asked what had happened this time,

            why did I call again,

            and what did I especially desire

            for myself in my frenzied heart:

            “Who this time am I to persuade

20         to your love? Sappho, who is doing you wrong?

            For even if she flees, soon she shall pursue.

            And if she refuses gifts, soon she shall give them.

            If she doesn’t love you, soon she shall love

            even if she’s unwilling.”

25         Come to me now once again and release me

            from grueling anxiety.

            All that my heart longs for,

            fulfill. And be yourself my ally in love’s battle.

16

            Some say an army of horsemen,

            some of footsoldiers, some of ships,

            is the fairest thing on the black earth,

            but I say it is what one loves.

5          It’s very easy to make this clear

            to everyone, for Helen,

            by far surpassing mortals in beauty,

            left the best of all husbands

            and sailed to Troy,

10         mindful of neither her child

            nor her dear parents, but

            with one glimpse she was seduced by

            Aphrodite. For easily bent...

            and nimbly...[missing text]...

15         has reminded me now

            of Anactoria who is not here;

            I would much prefer to see the lovely

            way she walks and the radiant glance of her face

            than the war-chariots of the Lydians or

20         their footsoldiers in arms.

 32        I have a beautiful daughter

Like a golden flower

My beloved Kleis.

I would not trade her for all Lydia nor lovely...


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