Today in Gay History

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February 08

Neil Cassady
1926 -

NEAL CASSADY, American writer born (d. 1968); In 1946 Cassady met Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University in New York and quickly became friends with them and the circle of artists and writers there. While in this writer's opinion he is one of the great cock-teases of history, he had a sexual relationship with Ginsberg that lasted off and on for the next twenty years and he later traveled cross-country with Kerouac.

James Dean
1931 -

JAMES DEAN, American actor born (d. 1955); an American film idol. Dean's status as a cultural icon is best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without A Cause, in which he starred as troubled high school rebel Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his star power were as the awkward loner Cal Trask in  East of Eden, and as the surly, racist farmer Jett Rink in Giant. His enduring fame and popularity rests on only three films, his entire starring output. Today, Dean is often considered an icon because of his "experimental" take on life, which included his ambivalent sexuality.

There have been several accounts of Dean's sexual relationships with both men and women. William Bast was one of Dean's closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean's family. Dean's first biographer (1956), Bast, an acquaintance of this writer's,  was his roommate at UCLA and later in New York, and knew Dean throughout the last five years of his life. Bast published a revealing update of his first book, in which, after years of successfully dodging the question as to whether he and Dean were sexually involved, he has finally admitted that they were. In this second book Bast describes the difficult circumstances of their involvement and also deals frankly with some of Dean's other homosexual relationships, notably the actor's friendship with Rogers Brackett, the influential producer of radio dramas who encouraged Dean in his career and provided him with useful professional contacts.

Journalist Joe Hyams suggests that any homosexual acts Dean might have involved himself in appear to have been strictly "for trade," as a means of advancing his career. Val Holley notes that, according to Hollywood biographer Lawrence J. Quirk, Gay Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly "would put the make on the most prominent young actors, including Robert Francis, Guy Madison, Anthony Perkins, Nick Adams and James Dean." However, the "trade only" notion is debated by Bast and other Dean biographers. Indeed, aside from Bast's account of his own relationship with Dean, Dean's fellow biker and "Night Watch" member John Gilmore claims he and Dean "experimented" with homosexual acts on one occasion in New York, and it is difficult to see how Dean, then already in his twenties, would have viewed this as a "trade" means of advancing his career.

In his Natalie Wood biography, Gavin Lambert, himself Gay and part of the Hollywood Gay circles of the 50s and 60s, describes Dean as being bisexual. Rebel director Nicholas Ray has also gone on record to say that Dean was bisexual. Consequently, Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon's book Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day  includes an entry on James Dean. Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual, then classified by the US government as a mental disorder. When questioned about his orientation, he is reported to have said, "Well, I'm certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back."

L to R: Jack Larson and George Reeves
1933 -

JACK LARSON, American actor born (d: 2015); an actor, librettist, screenwriter and producer, he was raised in Pasadena, California and was best known for his portrayal of Jimmy Olsen in the TV series Adventures of Superman. In 2006, he appeared in Bryan Singer’s film Superman Returns in a cameo role as "Bo the Bartender"; it was rumored prior to the film's release that his role would actually be Suicide Slum resident and Superman fan, Bibbo Bibowski, a supporting character from the modern Superman comics. In one of Larson's Superman Returns scenes, where characters celebrate Superman's rescue of a plane, his character is shown wearing a bow tie in the style of Jimmy Olsen and hugging the film's incarnation of Jimmy Olsen played by Sam Huntington.

As a writer, Larson wrote the libretto to the opera Lord Byron to music by Virgil Thompson. Larson was the life-partner of director James Bridges [The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy, Perfect, and Bright Lights, Big City. Their relationship lasted 35 years until Bridges' death in June 1993. Prior to that, he was the companion of actor Montgomery Clift.

Artist Harmony Hammon
1944 -

HARMONY HAMMOND is an American artist artist, activist, curator, and writer born on this date in Hometown, Illinois.

Hammond moved to New York in 1969, just months after the Stonewall Riots. During the late 1960s, Hammond was married for a short time, and found out she was pregnant with her daughter, at which point she and her husband decided to part ways. In 1973, Hammond publicly came out as a Lesbian.

Hammond curated A Lesbian Show in 1978 at 112 Greene Street Workshop, featuring works by lesbian artists. She was one of the featured artists in the "Great American Lesbian Art Show" at the Woman's Building in 1980. In 1981, Hammond curated and exhibited her work in Home Work: The Domestic Environment As Reflected in the Work of Women Artists, sponsored by the New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA) and The Women's Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, NY. She also curated an exhibition in 1999 at Plan B Evolving Arts in Santa Fe titled Out West, bringing together 41 Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transgender and Two-Spirit artists from the Southwest.

Hammond authored her first book, Wrappings: Essays on Feminism, Art, and the Martial Arts, a corpus of her writings from 1973 to 1983 published by TSL Press, in 1984. In 2000 she published Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History. She is featured in two 2010 films on feminist art - The Heretics, directed by Joan Braderman which focuses on the founders of the magazines Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics in 1976; and  !Women Art Revolution, directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson.

In 1984, she moved to New Mexico. As a tenured full professor, Hammond taught painting, combined media and graduate critiques at the University of Arizona in Tucson, from 1988 to 2005. Hammond continues to teach workshops and writes, curates, and lectures on feminist, lesbian, and queer art.

She has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Adolph and Esther Gottleib Foundation and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, among others. In 2013, the Women's Caucus for Art announced that Hammond would be one of the 2014 recipients of the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. Harmony Hammond Papers were acquired by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles in 2016.

Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art, Hammond's first museum survey, is currently taking place at the Aldritch Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

2018 -

Parinirvana Day, or Nirvana Day is a Mahayana Buddhist holiday celebrated in East Asia. By some it is celebrated on 8th of February, but by most on 15th of February. It celebrates the day when the Buddha achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body.

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