Thursday, 31 March 2011


Tear never took himself too seriously. On one occasion he described music as “a profession which one can hardly call essential”, a sentiment that he was happy to stand by.

By way of a little tribute to Welsh tenor Robert Tear, who died this week, I thought I'd feature a little of his most famous role.

Now the first thing that springs to mind when considering Benjamin Britten is not "camp". For despite the composer's long love affair with tenor Peter Pears, recent revelations in his (and others') diaries about flirtations with boys and trips to clandestine saunas with Auden and Insherwood, and his apparent operatic "first" with a gay character Albert Herring, the man was too self-denying and too damned serious to be described as such.

However, this scene from Britten's operatic adaptation of Thomas Mann's controversial Death in Venice - itself an exercise in extreme camp (as the Luchino Visconti film version starring Dirk Bogarde exemplifies) - and starring Robert Tear in the lead role perhaps quite befits that accolade after all...

Robert Tear obituary

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Creation of beauty

“Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jean Shrimpton

David Bailey

A new dramatisation of the lives of Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey is coming to BBC4 this summer...

Monday, 28 March 2011

The man within

"Art is the window to man's soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within."
Claudia Johnson

The fabulously camp Simon Doonan, author of the book that became the hit TV series Beautiful People, photographed by Jason Bell.

This photo features as part of the exhibition An Englishman in New York: Photographs by Jason Bell, which finishes at the National Portrait Gallery on 17 April 2011.

Jewel of the week...

Over at the PriceScope jewellery forums:

I want one. Please.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Sweet Bird of Youth...

Today (26th March 2011) is the centenary of the birth of one Thomas Lainier Williams, better known to the world as Tennessee Williams!

A prolific writer and playwright, Mr Williams had the good fortune to begin his career just at the time when Hollywood was crying out for just the kind of dramatic, emotionally tangled and startling plots of which he was so much the expert.

His plays were perfect for the big screen, and indeed his prime roles were crying out for big stars to play them. And so it came to pass that The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Sweet Bird of Youth all became hugely-acclaimed (and hugely successful) movies - and cemented the acting reputations of Jane Wyman, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Montgomery Clift.

As for camp, Tennessee Williams (gay himself) managed not only to build some of the most memorable gay themes into the biggest movies in Hollywood, but also made characters that would forever be parodied and replicated by other performers (drag and otherwise) and film-makers.

In his anthology Camp - The Lie That Tells The Truth (my bible!), author Philip Core has this to say:

With this greatest of American poet-playwrights camp became a myth-making process, which homogenised unhappy homosexuality, drugs, family dependence, fear of women and hatred of his masculine erotic images into an elaborate pantheon of monsters - Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Mrs Stone, Big Daddy - all of whom are Oedipal archetypes. Their fights and loves, hates and happinesses, spell out in code language the twisted and unhappy path of the artist's life on a level which is truer than his autobiography but less a de-personalised work of art than the similar characters of, say, Arthur Miller.

The degree of self-deprecating wit and ornate nostalgia which decorates Tennessee Williams' work is an essential concomitant of camp; if an author creates all his characters as transparent masks for the self, he needs to tart them up a bit to avoid monotony (a saving flourish which is often lacking in his later work). Williams is also, especially in The Rose Tattoo, and the screen version of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (Boom), one of the most polished and original conscious users of camp, turning his Witch of Capri from the latter into a cameo role for Noel Coward and utilising the gay poetry of the tattoo so beloved of his translator, Cocteau.
"Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory." - Tennessee Williams

His childhood and family background was a sad one - his father constantly derided him as "Miss Nancy", and his sister was lobotomised in a mental asylum - which certainly must have played a role in the instability of his own psyche. The young Tennessee was in therapy for many years, convinced he could cure himself of homosexuality, and suffered from frequent bouts of depression.

However, he was not "cured", he was not celibate, and his relationship with former sailor Frank Merlo provided at least some solidity over the years - they were together, on and off, for fifteen years until Merlo's death in 1963.

In his declining years, Mr Williams could not replicate the grand guignol stories of his younger career, and his health declined as his dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs went up.

Tennessee Williams died on February 25, 1983, after choking on the cap of a bottle of eye drops that became lodged in his throat. He was 71 years old. A dramatic end for a dramatic character.

Tennessee Williams on IMDB

Friday, 25 March 2011

A love story...

I blogged today over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle about how impressed I was with the new BBC drama Christopher and His Kind. Of course, Mr Isherwood's adventures in Berlin was not the end of the story - far from it...

After escaping the horrors of his beloved city of Berlin once the rise of the Nazis had ensured the decimation of its decadent underworld, Christopher Isherwood settled in Los Angeles and immediately became entangled in its circle of European émigrés, writers, painters, and seekers of enlightenment - Aldous Huxley, Truman Capote, David Hockney and the rest.

Among this gay gathering of aesthetes was Don Bachardy, who would become Isherwood’s longtime partner after a chance meeting on Valentine’s Day on the beach. Christopher was 48; Don was eighteen years old.

"Isherwood and Bachardy were open about their life together, regardless of the waves it caused. This was during a period when gay relationships were not acceptable. The age difference in their relationship brought obvious personal problems that had to be addressed.

Don often felt disregarded by Chris's famous friends and frequently was. Nevertheless, Bachardy pursued his art career with great energy, painting and drawing every day. Finding a vocation gave Don a sense of fulfilment and independence. He began to realize that he could function independently, which made him question whether he wanted to stay with Isherwood. Don toyed with leaving the relationship and striking out on his own..."
This is, of course, the promotional blurb for the film production of their life together Chris and Don - A Love Story.

Despite living for 33 years with Christopher, Don never once peeked at his diaries. “We agreed that we mustn’t give each other access to our diaries because we would become self-conscious,” he said.

Bachardy only began to read the diaries the night Isherwood died. He took three months, reading from most recent to oldest, and had only one regret.

Don also kept his own diaries, of which he says: “I was very sorry that it never occurred to me that if I didn’t share them with him while he was alive, he would never read them,” he said.

The diaries obviously form the basis of Don's documentary film, and expose in intense detail the ups and downs of a long relationship - indeed during one "down" period when Don fled the nest briefly for another man, Christopher wrote the story that became the award-winning Colin Firth movie A Single Man. Don himself made a cameo appearance in the movie.

Don Bachardy is alive and well at the age of 76, and still lives in the couple's marital home in California. His artworks reside in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institute and other galleries across America, and in the National Portrait Gallery in London:

WH Auden by Don Bachardy

Isherwood by Bachardy

Christopher Isherwood biography on the GLBTQ website

Portraits by Bachardy

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

My wedding bouquet...

Continuing what seems to be a bit of a floral theme to our exhibits this Spring at Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp (and eternal thanks to Thombeau over at the Chateau for highlighting them!), let us enter the far darker world of the imagination of one Beresford Egan...

Welcome to the Flowers of Evil!

Beresford Egan (1905 - 1984)

Monday, 21 March 2011

The wildest pansy

As well as being a beacon of true camp, Billy Haines was a pioneer.

One of the early heart-throbs of the silent movie era, critically acclaimed in movies alongside such stars as Marion Davies and Mary Pickford, the young William Haines had a promising career ahead of him. He successfully transferred to the "talkies" and was one of MGM's "golden boys". Until, that is, his well-known secret came out.

Billy the heart-throb

For Billy, being gay was not a problem. He had after all been living happily with a boyfriend (Jimmie Shields) for years, and had been out and gay in Greenwich Village long before moving to Hollywood. However, an unfortunate incident involving a sailor and an arrest in the notorious Los Angeles YMCA came to the attention of studio boss Louis B. Mayer (a man renowned for manipulating the lives of his stars).

Mayer's offer to "marry-off" Billy to avoid a scandal did not appeal, however - and his choice to stand up for his rights as a gay man (very brave in 1933!) cost Mr Haines his movie career.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we got Robert Montgomery! (He was cast in the roles Billy was supposed to take.)

Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery

However Billy's story is not a sad one. For despite cutting short his rise to screen stardom, he had charmed many of the glitterati of Tinseltown including Marion Davis and her lover William Randolph Hearst, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Claudette Colbert, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Kay Francis, Carole Lombard, George Cukor and Charles Boyer.

Thus when he and his lifetime partner Jimmie set up an interior design and antiques business, their client book was indeed a glittering one that included not only fellow movie stars, but also American "royalty" such as the Bloomingdales, Reagans and Annenburgs.

Jimmie, Billy and Joan
Jimmie, Billy and Joan

Despite a horrible incident when they were queer-bashed by the Klu Klux Klan, the Haines-Shields household remained stable until Billy's death in the 1970s. Indeed, Joan Crawford described them as "the happiest married couple in Hollywood." Such was their devotion that when Billy went, Jimmie took an overdose next to Billy's body; they were buried together.

Some facts about William Haines:
  • He had a pet nickname for Joan Crawford - “Cranberry” - that he coined when the studio changed her name from Lucille Le Seur.
  • Gloria Swanson earmarked Mr Haines to star alongside her in Sunset Boulevard, but he declined the offer.
  • His most famous line (from the movie Way Out West) occurs when he is mistaken for the cook, Pansy. When called by her name he replies, "I'm the wildest pansy you ever picked!"

William Haines Designs, the business he and Jimmie founded, continues to this day.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Uncle Bulgaria? Or Aunt..?

Another fantabulosa discovery, and another worthy exhibit for the Museum of Camp, methinks...

Azis is certainly unique - a Bulgarian gender-bending pop star with a dozen top-selling LPs behind him, he has his own television chat show, was an unsuccessful Eurovision entrant, stood for political office (without success), and was elected "the 21st greatest Bulgarian of all time" (I am not sure I would be able to name any of the others on that particular list) - he is ground-breaking in his homeland for defying convention and openly challenging traditionalist norms.

This video for his song No Kazvam ti stiga apparently includes his husband (Azis had a remarkable and controversial wedding, in defiance of Bulgaria's dodgy political state) and three previous boyfriends - cosy...

The current backlash against homosexuality in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states is no joke. So if it takes an outrageous silver bear in high heels to challenge the bigots, so be it!

Azis on Wikipedia