Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Paul Jabara

 Paul Jabara and Donna Summer

You might not know the name, but you know the music. Songwriter, producer, singer and actor Paul Jabara (1948-1992), of Lebanese ancestry, won an Academy Award in 1979 for writing the Donna Summer disco hit "Last Dance" (Oscar for best original song for 1978's “Thank God It’s Friday”). A native of Brooklyn, NY, he made his Broadway debut in the original cast of “Hair,” going on to create the role of King Herod in the original London production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Although he wrote songs for Barbra Streisand (“The Main Event”), Bette Midler (“Jinxed”) and a duet for Streisand and Summer (“Enough Is Enough”), he is perhaps better known as the author of “It’s Raining Men” (The Weather Girls). Jabara also produced Streisand’s Grammy Award-winning “Broadway Album.” As a singer himself, he released seven albums. “Paul Jabara and Friends” (1983) featured a 19-year-old Whitney Houston.

The incomparable WEATHER GIRLS:

Paul’s movie career included roles in "Midnight Cowboy," "The Lords of Flatbush," "The Day of the Locust," "Honky-Tonk Freeway," "Star 80," "Legal Eagles" and "Light Sleeper." He also appear on television in "Starsky and Hutch," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "The Equalizer" and the made-for-television movies "The Last Angry Man" and "Out of the Darkness."

Jabara died from AIDS at just 44 years old. He is buried at the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, alongside such gay luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of Kander & Ebb), Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Dr. Richard Isay (see separate posts in sidebar).

LAST DANCE video -- Donna Summer

New York Times obituary (1992)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dr. Richard Isay

Psychiatrist Richard Isay Fought
Mental Illness Label for Gays

Dr. Richard A. Isay (1934-2012) was a psychiatrist and gay-rights advocate who badgered the professional psychiatric community to declassify homosexuality as an illness. Dr. Isay (pronounced EYE-say) was a married father of two sons who did not admit to himself that he was gay until he was forty years old. At the time of his death from cancer, he was married to Gordon Harrell, an artist twenty years his junior.

Isay, who was a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and faculty member at Columbia University, also authored several books, among them “Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love” (2006), “Becoming Gay” (1997), and “Being Homosexual” (1989).

Along his path to changing the way the psychoanalytic profession viewed homosexuality, Isay was attacked by his peers. Troubled by his own sexuality, Isay underwent ten years of therapy, after which he accepted that he was homosexual. Although he remained closeted for a time, he assisted gay patients in accepting their sexual orientation, instead of promoting a “cure” by way of therapy. He published articles promoting homosexuality as normal, not an illness or defect of development.

When Isay acknowledged his homosexuality at professional gatherings, he was attacked by his colleagues, who stopped referring patients and suggested the he needed more therapy himself. Nevertheless, over the course of fifteen years Dr. Isay championed the premise that the medical field based its views on ideology, not evidence.

Even though the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973, many members of the American Psychoanalytic Association (the oldest professional group for analysts in the United States and one of the most influential) continued to regard it as an illness. In 1992 Isay threatened to sue that association, ultimately forcing them not to discriminate in training, hiring or promoting gay psychoanalysts. Isay’s stubbornness paid off. By 1997, in a major turnaround, the American Psychoanalytic Association became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.

During the course of his illustrious career Isay also served as vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association and as a member of the board of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBT youth in Manhattan.

Steven Sampson, a patient who became a friend, wrote after Isay’s death, “I think Richard was sort of a ‘bridge’ person, providing a bridge between different worlds that don’t always communicate. He was married with children, yet he was gay and had a long-term committed relationship with a man, in an environment in which long-term relationships were rare.”

From Andy Humm for Gay City News: Tobias Picker, the composer and a patient of Isay’s, wrote in an e-mail, “Richard said that fear of death came from feeling unloved. He knew he was completely loved by his husband, Gordon, and his family, and it was easy to see that he felt that love utterly and completely. He knew he was much beloved by his patients too. Not long ago, he told me...that he had no fear of death –– that he never gave it a thought.” Picker added, “For those who didn’t know him, his writings leave behind a lasting legacy of love.” Both his sons said that Isay’s favorite literary figure was Ferdinand the Bull from the Munro Leaf children’s book, the gentle beast who preferred flowers to bullfights. Richard Isay, famous for the fights he took on and won, was a lover at heart.

In addition to his sons and husband, at the time of his death Isay was survived by his former wife,  a brother, and four grandchildren, one of whom served as best man when Isay and Gordon Harrell were married in the living room of Isay’s son Josh. Dr. Isay is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, along with other gay luminaries Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of Kander and Ebb) and Louis Moreau Gottschalk (see blog posts in sidebar).

New York Times (Denise Grady)
Gay City News (Andy Humm)
Headline photograph: Ozier Muhammad (NYT)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles

Bisexual American expatriate Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was a polymath who enjoyed successful careers as a composer, translator, novelist and poet. Until he was 35 years old he showed more interest in poetry and musical composition, although his legacy rests on his novels.

In 1937 Bowles met Jane Auer (1917-1973), a lesbian writer from a wealthy Long Island family. She walked with a permanent limp, the result of a riding accident when she was 14 years old. Both were only children who had grown up on Long Island, had lived abroad and spoke fluent French. Although American by birth, they spoke French together for the rest of their lives. Both Bowles and Auer preferred same sex partners, so their friends were baffled when the two married in 1938, having known each other for just a year. As a condition to marriage, they both agreed to be sexually “free,” while knowing that their union would upset their respective families. Paul’s anti-Semitic father, whom he hated, called Jane a “crippled kike.”

Marriage allowed each to express their homosexuality, instead of hiding it. Eighteen months into their marriage, they ceased sexual relations, although they remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. They were polar opposites in temperament and habits. Paul was restrained, but Jane was beyond wild. After both inherited some money, they pooled their resources to live a vagabond life free from the necessity of salaried jobs. In 1947 they settled in the city of Tangier, Morocco, living in separate apartments. They became permanent expatriates, remaining in Tangier to live out their lives.

At that time Tangier’s status as an international zone (separate from the rest of Morocco) had been restored, lasting until Morocco’s independence in 1956. The city’s population comprised 31,000 Europeans, 15,000 Jews and 40,000 Muslims. The cost of living in Tangier was extraordinarily cheap, and both Paul and Jane were able to receive guests from the cream of the crop of influential intellectual homosexuals. Paul became a habitual abuser of hashish, Jane of alcohol. Unfortunately, both also entered into dangerous relationships with Arab lovers. Jane, with Cherifa, who dominated and eventually destroyed her life; Paul, with a 16-year-old boy named Ahmed Yacoubi and his successor Mohammed Mrabet, 30 years younger than Paul.

Any search engine can yield a list of Paul’s musical and literary works, but his best and most successful novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949), in which Paul and Jane appear as Port and Kit Moresby, a couple who journey to northern Africa to rekindle their marriage but fall prey to the dangers surrounding them, experiencing horror and tragedy. A distinguished film version was released in 1991, with Bowles himself as narrator, also appearing in a cameo role (at age 79). Unfortunately Jane, whose literary efforts were in direct competition with her husband’s, has not enjoyed an enduring literary legacy.

While continuing to live in Tangier, Jane descended into illness and insanity. Having given away all her money and possessions, she caused Paul to have to cover checks she wrote without funds to support them. She died in a  psychiatric clinic in Málaga, Spain, at age 56. Paul died in his modest home in Tangier in 1999, at the age of 88.

A strange relation:


After writer Christopher Isherwood met Bowles in Berlin, Isherwood borrowed his surname in creating the literary character Sally Bowles, included in a collection of semi-autobiographical stories called Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Isherwood based the character on a woman he had known while living in Berlin. British playwright John Van Druten adapted Isherwood’s story for a 1951 Broadway play, I Am a Camera, for which Julie Harris won a Tony Award for portraying Sally Bowles. Producer Harold Prince commissioned the team of Kander (music) and Ebb (lyrics) to write the score for Cabaret, a musical version of I Am a Camera, which opened on Broadway in 1966, running for three years. It is a little-known fact that Judi Dench debuted the role of Sally Bowles in London’s 1968 West End production of Cabaret (photo evidence below). Judi Dench had never done a musical in her life, but John Kander later said that she was the best Sally Bowles he had ever seen, before or since.

Liza Minelli won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sally in the 1972 film version. Cabaret remains an oft-revived landmark of American musical theatre. A 2014 year-long Broadway revival starred Alan Cumming as the cabaret emcee and Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles.