Aug 11, 2017

N.C. Wyeth: Keeping Gay Desire Hidden

During the first half of the twentieth century, kids who got adventure books as presents, or checked them out of the library, were sure to find beautiful illustrations by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), like this naked warrior in a biography of Charlemagne.

The American regionalist illustrated over 100 books, including The Last of the Mohicans, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, The Yearling -- just about everything that boys read for pleasure during that era, making him as famous as Norman Rockwell or J.C. Leyendecker.

He also drew hundreds of magazine covers, advertisements, patriotic images, and murals, as well as a repertoire of 1,000 paintings.

N.C. (Newell) Wyeth belonged to the Brandywine School, known for its dependence on bright, vivid colors, realism to the point of grotesqueness, and serious, ponderous themes.  He frequently offered beefcake images -- two or three pictures in nearly every book display the interplay of muscles on a bare torso or nude backside.  But with two odd quirks:

1. N.C.'s nude men are almost always obscured, their faces hidden or their bodies engulfed in shadow, as in the illustrations from The White Company (left) or The Mysterious Island (below). It's as if displaying the face and physique together would be too dangerous, give too much voice to secret desires.

2. They are almost always in conflict, wrestling, fighting, attacking, subduing or being subdued, as in this illustration from Drums. It's as if he feared what would happen if two men approached each other in respect, friendship, or love.

In real life, N.C. was nothing like his stolid, stable, respectable illustrations would suggest.  He was an aesthete, a gourmand and a bon vivant, who held court in his house in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and summer home in Maine, partying with all of the greats of the Jazz Age, including Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and gay novelist Hugh Walpole.  

There is no evidence that N.C. was gay, but lots of evidence that he worried about sexual identity. In those days people thought that gayness was an inversion, and he was "inverted," with a blustering machismo deliberately affected as a remedy to a "sissy" childhood, with refined, "feminine" tastes in literature, art, and music, and with many intense, passionate friendships with men. 

You mustn't paint the nude men directly -- they must always be obscured.  Or else who knows what feelings might be stirred up?

N.C.'s older brother Nat, who was gay, suffered a series of nervous breakdowns, was institutionalized off and on, and attempted suicide several times. 

Is that the end result of men loving men?  Better show them always in conflict.

By all accounts, N.C. and his wife provided a happy home for their five children, bright with art and music. Three -- Andrew, Henriette, and Carolyn -- became well-respected artists in their own right. Nathaniel became an inventor.

But N.C. constantly struggled with his demons. Self-recrimination because he was "merely" an illustrator instead of a great painter.  And something else...a nagging doubt.  

His oldest son Nathaniel, called "Nat" after his uncle, was also gay.

From father to son...

 N.C. sublimated through eating heavily, finally tipping the scale at over 300 pounds.  And  through frequent extramarital romances, most notably a long-term affair with his daughter-in-law Caroline, Nat's wife.  There were rumors that her fifth child -- named Newell, after his grandfather -- was actually his "love child."  

On October 19, 1945, a few days before his 63rd birthday, N.C. Wyeth and 4-year old Newell were killed when their car stalled on some railroad tracks.

He left just one illustration of a semi-nude man who is not obscured or in conflict.  Chasing a woman.

N.C.'s son, Andrew Wyeth, was more nonchalant about gay identity, and his grandson Jamie, also an artist, is a gay ally.

See also: N.C., Andrew, and Jamie: 3 Generations of Gay Art.

Aug 10, 2017

A Gaggle of Shirtless Jeremys

Somebody found this blog using google search terms "Jeremy naked."  Jeremy who?  The only Jeremys I have posts about are Jackson and Lelliot.  But, just for fun, I put "Jeremy shirtless" into google images to see who popped up.

1. Jeremy Irvine of Stonewall, with his ridiculously huge bulge.  What's he packing, about four rolled-up socks?

2.  Jeremy Renner, who I first saw in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013).    Where did I get the idea that Renner was a twink?  He's 46.

3. 1990s teen heartthrob Jeremy Jackson still has abs.

4. Steven R. McQueen.  Nice physique, but he's no Jeremy.

5. Jeremy Bloom, a football player and Olympic skiier.  No wonder I never heard of him.

More after the break.

Paul Newman and Rocky Graziano: Somebody Down Here Likes Me

Paul Newman and James Dean met in 1952, when they were studying at the famous Actors Studio in New York.  They began a passionate affair.

But there were problems from the start: Paul didn't like sneaking around under the nose of his wife, and he wanted exclusivity, whereas Jimmy had a roving eye (Paul had the same problem when he dated Yul Brynner a couple of years before).

In 1953, they both auditioned for the roles of the twin brothers in East of Eden -- check out the homoerotic screen test on the Eddi Haskell blog.

Jimmy got the part, but Paul lost out.  He was devastated, and the relationship cooled.

After James Dean's tragic death on September 30, 1955, Paul was offered several roles that had been earmarked for him, including  Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), a biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano (top photo) based on his bestselling autobiography.

It was a Hollywood rags-to-riches story, with a juvenile delinquency twist.  The young Rocky is abused by his father, joins a street gang, gets into fights, is drafted into the army but goes AWOL, is sent to prison, finds a new life as a boxer, and finally triumphs over an evil rival (real boxer Tony Zale).

Oh, and there's a requisite hetero-romance, but there's a strong gay subtext between Rocky and best buddy Romolo (gay actor Sal Mineo), plus the gay symbolism of a blackmail plotline.

The story doesn't end there. The real 37-year old Rocky appeared as an adviser, and he and Paul hit it off. They were often seen socializing together off the set.

I couldn't find any information on whether they became lovers, but since Rocky also hung out with the bisexual Marlon Brando, it's a possibility.

The t-shirts are from Grossinger's Resort in the Catskills.

Paul went on, of course, to become the most famous actor of the 1960s and a master of gay subtexts.  Rocky Graziano had a respectable tv career and opened a restaurant.

Aug 9, 2017

Kevin Zegers: Former Teen Idol is Trans-Friendly

Only a few teen idols have achieved such fan accolades that there are websites devoted to detailed descriptions of every scene of every movie, tv, and theatrical appearance.  Luke Halpin of Flipper.  Jonathan Taylor Thomas of Home Improvement.  And Kevin Zegers.

Born in 1984, the Canadian actor didn't have a sitcom to bring him instant tween fame; he had to build a fanbase from movies: the boy-and-dog Air Bud series (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002); the boy-and-unicorn Nico the Unicorn (1998); the boy-and-monster Komodo (1999); the boy-and-chimp MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000).  

By 2000, Kevin had muscled up and was thoroughly established as a teen beefcake star, in spite of the lack of a weekly series (not counting the teen soap Titans, which only lasted for 13 episodes).

Some by-the-book young-adult horror followed, such as Wrong Turn (2003), Fear of the Dark (2003), and Dawn of the Dead (2004).

But also serious dramatic roles about unconventional young men, sometimes with gender-atypical and trans interest.

The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie (2004): a troubled teen befriends an elderly woman and doesn't get a girl.

Transamerica (2005): a gay hustler goes on a road trip with his biological father, a MTF transwoman, and oddly enough gets a girl.  (Movie producers believe that gay men, like "all men," fall in love with women.)  But at least he gives a glimpse of some impressive frontal nudity.

It's a Boy-Girl Thing (2006): a boy and a girl, next door neighbors, swap bodies. Woody (Kevin Zegers), inhabited by a girl, likes boys, and is mistaken for gay.

Although he also plays a lot of heterosexual characters: his Damien in Gossip Girl (2009-2011) is into both Serena and Jenny, and his Vampire (2011) only drinks the blood of suicidal young women.

Not a lot of buddy-bonding roles, but The Colony (2012), about the survivors of a new Ice Age, is worth a look for the bond between two men (Kevin, Lawrence Fishburne) answering a distress call from another colony.

I haven't seen The Mortal Instrument: City of Bones (2013). In the original paranormal young-adult novel, Alex is gay.  But knowing Hollywood's skittishness about letting juveniles know that gay people exist, I wouldn't be surprised if in the movie version, he's gay-vague, or straight.

See also: Kevin Zegers: Teen Idol

Aug 8, 2017

The Gay Photographer in Eastern Kentucky

In 1964, gay documentary photographer William Gedney, known for documenting the Bohemian subcultures of New York and San Francisco,  traveled to the Blue Diamond Mining Camp in Pike County, Eastern Kentucky, about 60 miles from where my mother's family lived.

He wrote that he was looking for poverty and despair at the collapse of the mining industry, the "mental and physical depression of the people, almost complete lack of future and hope"

He met Willie Cornett, recently laid off from the mine, and ended up staying with Willie, his wife Vivian, and their twelve children in Big Rock, Kentucky.

He found poverty and pain, but not a "lack of future and hope."

He found resilience and strength and beauty.

He found a complex masculinity: cars, guns, country-western music, and redneck machismo, but also tenderness, physical intimacy, strong emotional bonds.

And, a thousand miles away from the gay community of New York, a blatant homoeroticism.

Photographs from his days with the Cornett family were displayed at a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in 1968 and 1969.

Gedney stayed in contact with the Cornetts, and photographed them again in 1972.

He didn't publish the photographs during his lifetime, except for one of the girls in the kitchen, for $35.

They were private, depicting the unexpected joy he found in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

Gedney died of AIDS in 1989.  Today his reputation is based chiefly on the moments he captured in the Kentucky photographs.

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