The Daily Agenda for Thursday, May 16

Jim Burroway

May 16th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Events This Weekend: Brussels, Belgium; Chisinau, Moldova; Düsseldorf, Germany; Hannover, Germany; Kraków, Poland; Long Beach, CA; New Hope, PA; Oklahoma City, OK; Springfield, IL.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Buffalo, NY; Orlando, FL; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Poughkeepsie, NY.

Other Events This Weekend: Harvey Milk Day, various locations and dates.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Homosexual Coed Tries to End Life”: 1950. That was the headline of a brief United Press article, datelined May 16 in Seattle:

A 25-year-old University of Washington co-ed, who police said admitted being a homosexual for the last eight years, was in jail today after threatening to kill herself.

The pretty coed, whose name police refused to divulge, telephoned the police department late yesterday and told officer Kenneth Dahl she had a high-powered 30.06 rifle “and I’m going to use it.”

“I haven’t anything else to live for,” she sobbed hysterically.

Dahl persuaded her to give him her address and he wold try to help her out of her trouble. Meanwhile, four prowl cars were sent speeding to the rooming house district adjacent to the university campus. In the basement of one of the houses officers found the woman with the rifle she had taken from a locker.

Detective L.W. Webb said she begged to be locked up. She said she just “gave up” and after quitting school last week decided she might as well kill herself. The woman told officers she had wanted to become a social worker but every time she applied she was turned down because of her affliction. She said she was from Los Angeles and that she had been studying zoology at the university before she quit.

Webb said the girl would be examined by a psychiatrist today and “probably be committed to a mental institution.”

Tamara de Lempicka (top) and “Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti),” 1925 (bottom)

TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS:
115 YEARS AGO: Tamara de Lempicka: 1898. The polish Art Deco painter known as “la belle Polonaise,” she personified the glamor of the Great Gatsby society of the interwar years. In 1978, The New York Times called her the “Steel-eyed goddess of the automobile age.” Her famous self-portrait, Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) portrayed a woman who was utterly free, independent, and self-assured. Automobiles provided women with a freedom and mobility that they had never known before, and the portrait’s depiction of a 400 horsepower Bugatti added raw speed and power to the mix.

During the roaring twenties, Tamara lived the bohemian life in Paris, hanging out with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide. She was famously, infamously bisexual, and she was uncompromising in her very public affairs in a way that was scandalous at the time. She reveled in it. “I live on the fringe of society,” she announced, “and the rules of normal society have no currency for those on the fringe.”

In 1928, she earned a commission to paint a portrait of the mistress of Baron Raoul Kuffner. By the time she was finished, she replaced the mistress’s position, and eventually became Kuffner’s wife in 1933. In 1939, the couple took an “extended vacation” to America, and ended up staying through the Second World War, where she became a favorite in Hollywood. But by the time the War ended, her style was no longer popular. She switched from using a brush to a pallet knife, but critics savaged her work. She retired from active painting in 1962, determined never to show her work again.

In subsequent years, she not only complained that the paints and materials were now inferior to the “old days,” but that people in the 1970s lacked the qualities and “breeding” that inspired her art. After her husband died, she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1978 to rejoin the society of aging artists and aristocrats. By then, the art world was rediscovering the Art Deco era and her paintings were rediscovered and became highly sought after. She died in 1980, and her ashes were scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl.

Top: Liberace’s signed photo to his mother. He was always Walter to her. Bottom: Liberace’s transparent closet.

Liberace: 1919. Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, he was known as Lee to his friends, Walter to his family, and Liberace to everyone else. His father, a french horn player, loved music but his mother saw it as an unfordable luxury. His father prevailed, taking his children to concerts and insisting on excellence in their music lessons. Liberace later recalled, “My dad’s love and respect for music created in him a deep determination to give as his legacy to the world, a family of musicians dedicated to the advancement of the art.”

On “Mr. Showmanship’s” terms, the advancement of the art took on an entirely new meaning. The word “synonymous” doesn’t do justice to the connection between Liberace’s name and flamboyance. He raised eyebrows by wearing a relatively simple white tuxedo at the Hollywood Bowl in 1952, and he continued to wear it so he could be easily seen in darkened concert halls. But it didn’t take long before that gave way to sequined jackets, then entire rhinestone-encrusted, fur-trimmed monstrosities that were “just one tuck short of drag,” as he put it. In the 1950’s he installed a Plexiglas lid on his piano so as to not obstruct the view; by the 1960s his pianos were often encrusted with jewels and mirrors. And then there was the candelabrum. Always the rococo candelabrum. His entrances at the start of his Las Vegas shows were legendary. Sometimes he’d step out of a sequined limousine that rolled onto stage (driven by his very young and handsome lover, Scott Thorson), sometimes he flew in by invisible wires. After making a grand runway walk, he’d hold out his arms to show off his outfit and yet, “I hope you like it! You paid for it!” The audience roared back their approval.

He was as out as any closeted gay man could possible be, and as closeted as every fearful performer was determined to be. But the difference between Liberace and everyone else is that, his verbal denials aside — he even sued London’s Daily Mirror in 1956 when they questioned his sexuality in print and, incredibly, won! — he didn’t otherwise put a lot of effort into trying to fool his audience while on stage. Art critic Dave Hickey, in his essay “A Rhinestone as Big As The Ritz,” I think, put it best:

He never came out of the closet; he lived in it like the grand hypocrite that he was, and died in it, of a disease he refused to acknowledge. But neither, in fact, did Wilde come out of it, and he, along with Swineburn and their Belle Époque cronies, probably invented the closet as a mode of subversive public/private existence. Nor did Noel Coward come out of it. He tricked it up with the smoke and mirrors of leisure-class ennui and cloaked it in public-school double entendre. What Liberace did do, however, was Americanize the closet, democratize it, fit it out with transparent walls, and take it up on stage and demand our complicity in his “open secret.” …”A bit like cousin Ed, ain’t he,” my grandfather said. Getting it but not saying it.

Scott Thorson and Liberace

In 1982, Thorson, by then Liberace’s 24-year-old lover of five years, sued Liberace for $113 million in palimony after they broke up. The lawsuit made for sensation headlines, but Thorson wound up settling for a pittance. Liberace’s closet remained sealed right up until he died in 1987. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure brought on by sub-acute encephalopathy. Before he died, Hank Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, wrote in a front-page story that he had known Liberace for 40 years and that he, Greenspun, had the medical records, laboratory reports and other documentation to prove that Liberace had AIDS. Liberace and his handlers continued to deny the reports. After Liberace’s death, Thorson published a tell-all book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, in which Thorson described the “tender love” he shared with Liberace and their reconciliation at Liberace’s death bed. But despite that, and even despite Betty White’s 2011 revelation that she was a beard for some of Liberace’s dates for publicity’s sake, Wikipedia still — yes still! — has an entire section devoted to his “allegations of homosexuality.”

A biopic, Behind the Candelabra, based on Thorson’s book and starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson, will premiere on HBO May 25. Thorson won’t be able to see it however. The Washoe (NV) County jail, where he is being held for burglary and identity theft, doesn’t get HBO.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Stephen

May 16th, 2013

The remarks by Dave Hickey, whoever that is, are preposterous. To sneer at Wilde and Swinburne – is he making some kind of joke about the man’s name by misspelling it or is he merely ignorant?- because they didn’t live their lives as he thinks they should is to ignore the social realities of their time. And to write of Coward in such a ridiculous manner is to betray a complete lack of understanding. He was never ‘in a closet’ so he never had to come out. By sneering at the past Hickey diminishes the present.

As we move into the mainstream we need to develop a way of looking at the men and women who went before us in a manner that acknowledges the realities of their time, not scold them because they weren’t like us.

james

May 16th, 2013

My mother and grandmother both liked Liberace, but I can remember as a child and young adolescent (by 16 I didn’t care anymore) tensing up a bit every time he came on TV. I certainly knew I was gay by the time I was 12 (didn’t know what to call it, only understand it looking back.) I think I was hoping I wouldn’t “turn out that way.” And I didn’t. I came out when I was 18, and I can’t play the piano. I always feel a bit sad when I think about Liberace.

jpeckjr

May 16th, 2013

The Seattle story reflects so many changes in our culture in the last 60 years. Who uses “co-ed” to refer to a female university student anymore, the connotation of the term being that higher education is a man’s world.

But young adults still contemplate suicide over their sexual orientation, and jails are still used to provide mental health care . . .

Timothy Kincaid

May 16th, 2013

“And I didn’t. I came out when I was 18, and I can’t play the piano.”

yes… but we’ve been meaning to talk to you about the fur coats and rhinestone studded cars.

Ben In Oakland

May 16th, 2013

Umm– 155 years ago?

Jim Burroway

May 16th, 2013

Crossed a digit. Sorry about that.

Lucrece

May 16th, 2013

He was such a creep.

Donny D.

May 17th, 2013

Who?

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