Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"I was the instrument that I must care for"

"A violinist had a violin, a painter his palette. All I had was myself. I was the instrument that I must care for."

"Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest... beautiful, no. Amusing, yes."

"I like Frenchmen very much, because even when they insult you they do it so nicely."

"I improvised, crazed by the music. . . . Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone."

"I wasn't really naked. I simply didn't have any clothes on."

Josephine Baker (3rd June 1906 – 12th April 1975)

Read my previous blogs about the grand dame over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle here and here

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Warren Cup

From the British Museum website:
A silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes, this object takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928).

After Warren's death the cup remained in private hands, largely because of the nature of the subject matter. Only with changing attitudes in the 1980s was the cup exhibited to the public, and in 1999 the British Museum was able to give this important piece a permanent home in the public domain.

The cup was originally made up of five parts - the thin-walled bowl with its high relief scenes, raised by hammering; an inner liner of thicker sheet silver with a solid rim, which would have made both drinking and cleaning easier; a pair of handles (now lost) and a cast foot soldered to the base.

The scenes on each side show two pairs of male lovers. On one side the erastes (older, active lover) is bearded and wears a wreath while the eromenos (younger 'beloved', passive) is a beardless youth. A servant tentatively comes through a door. In the background is a draped textile, and a kithara (lyre) resting on a chest.

In the scene on the other side the erastes is beardless, while the eromenos is just a boy. Auloi (pipes) are suspended over the background textile, and folded textiles are lying on a chest. The surroundings suggest a cultured, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.

Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, on glass and pottery vessels, terracotta lamps and wall-paintings in both public and private buildings. They were thus commonly seen by both sexes, and all sections of society.

The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The Warren Cup reflects the customs and attitudes of this historical context, and provides us with an important insight into the culture that made and used it.

LGBT History Month.

Friday, 17 February 2012


Sir Anthony Dowell (born 16th February 1943)

From Ballet Magazine, 1999:
Anthony Dowell is remembered by many as the perfect English dancer. His understated elegance seemed to personify all that we think of as our national virtues, and in particular he looked almost uniquely 'right' in the Ashton repertoire. From his first appearance, in a solo in the Napoli Variations, he was clearly headed for the top, and even without his famous partnership with Antoinette Sibley he would be assured of a permanent place in the pantheon of British ballet.

Dowell's early training (his first teacher was Susan Hampshire's mother) covered tap and musical comedy as well as ballet, and he kept for ever a slight yen to appear in a musical and dance like his idol Gene Kelly. At the Royal Ballet School he was soon identified as potentially special - people used to come and watch him in class, through the curtains so he wouldn't notice - but his career nearly came to a premature end at his graduation performance, where the double tours in the Swan Lake pas de six defeated him at rehearsal, and only encouragement and coaching from Michael Somes got him through. He was taken into the London Royal Ballet in 1961, after a year's apprenticeship in the Covent Garden Opera Ballet, and within three years was launched on the road to stardom when Ashton chose him to create the role of Oberon in his Dream, showing for the first time his speed and unique ability to change direction apparently instantaneously.

In Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet in 1965 he created the role of Benvolio, and it was at Sibley's request that he moved up to Romeo when she came back from a long illness to dance Juliet. Although he turned out - rather to MacMillan's surprise - to have the stamina for such a long role, many of the critics thought his acting lagged a long way behind his already wonderful dancing. This perceived shortcoming dogged him for years, and it was perhaps not until he created another MacMillan lead in Manon, years later, that his acting was generally appreciated. He was soon dancing all the classics, usually with Sibley (although there were those who actually thought him better partnered with Merle Park), and in a string of new roles by both Ashton and MacMillan. In 1967 he was honoured by having Antony Tudor create for him the only ballet he ever made for the London company, Shadowplay, an experience which taught him a huge amount about interpretation.

Dowell and David Wall led the company through some of its greatest days in the late sixties and seventies; but by 1978 Dowell was running out of new things to do, and took a year off to dance with American Ballet Theatre. He was already a favourite in New York from the Royal Ballet's tours, and this season confirmed his status as an international star; when he came back it was with a new confidence and assurance. His stage personality up till then could seem introverted, with a feeling that he was holding something back, and it was this seeming unwillingness to give himself entirely to the dance that perhaps held him back from reaching the greatest heights. But this is to cavil: he was one of the finest classical dancers of our time.
Indeed - as his solo from Swan Lake demonstrates:

An entire 1976 BBC documentary on Sir Anthony, All the Superlatives is available on YouTube

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Androgyne subterfuge

" Jersey she soon instigated an outrageous – not to mention dangerous – game of subterfuge, producing fake letters and tracts advertising unrest among the occupying forces. It was startlingly effective: two old cat ladies had the Nazis on the run, fearing mutiny."

Read a most fascinating article in the Guardian about Claude Cahun (born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob), artist, photographer, writer, Surrealist, pioneering lesbian, androgyne and Resistance subversive.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Don`t listen to her, just look

"The head of publicity of the Hollywood studio where I was first under contract told me: You`re a piece of meat, that`s all. It wasn`t very nice but I had to take it. When I made my first screen test, the director explained to everyone: Don`t listen to her, just look."

"I don't feel that I was a Hollywood-created star."

"If you're wanting glamorous or really beautiful or really sexy, well then, I wasn't really the one, but I could do all of that. You could just get really lost in that kind of image."

"Besides, I never really liked my knees."

Kim Novak (born 13th February 1933).

She's crazy, but fabulous.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Boy = God

When the beautiful youth Antinous, favourite of the Roman emperor Hadrian drowned in the Nile one autumn night in 130 AD, his legacy appeared slight. However, this was not to be the case...

From a web page written by the mysterious "Lady Hedgehog" :
"Little is known as to how Antinous came to be in the house of Hadrian. It is thought that he was taken from Claudiopolis during one of Hadrian's tours of the provinces in 123, when the boy was around eleven or twelve. Whether he was taken by force or went willingly is open to speculation, but that he later became the Emperor's favorite seems to preclude his ever being a slave since Hadrian was known to accept social boundaries. The fact that many busts where made of an Antinous aged around thirteen would indicate that he was a member of the Emperor's circle soon after leaving his home. It is thought that he was taken to Rome as a page and perhaps entered into the imperial paedagogium. The paedagogium may have, in part, served as a harem of boys, but its official role was that of a polishing school designed to train the boys to become palace or civil servants. It is impossible to say exactly when Hadrian became enamored of Antinous but it is thought to have been sometime between the Emperor's return to Italy in 125 and his next trip to Greece in 128, on which tour Antinous accompanied him as favorite.

Precisely what happened to Antinous in October of 130 is unknown. The Historia Augusta reports, "he [Hadrian] lost his Antinous along the Nile." Hadrian simply wrote, "He fell into the Nile." That this is all the extant written comment from the Emperor on the subject is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the word he used for "fell" can imply either an accident fall or a deliberate one. It is quite impossible to definitely pick one of these options, particularly in light of the fact that the body of Antinous has been lost. An accidental fall seems unlikely, but it is an option that modern scholars are unable to completely disregard. Most historians prefer instead a theory of self-sacrifice."

"That Antinous may have sacrificed himself has much support. Firstly, he was at the time in Egypt. The last two floodings of the Nile had been unsatisfactory and there was an ancient tradition in Egypt to send a sacrifice to drown in the river as a way of influencing the river gods to send better floods in upcoming years. There was undoubtedly much talk of reviving that custom in 130 for a third drought would bring famine to Egypt, which would lead to turmoil in the Empire. That persons drowned in the Nile tended to be deified on death may well have appealed to Antinous.

Secondly, there was a theory in ancient Greece that by dying one could add years to the life of the one for whom one died. The anti-psyche, as the Greeks referred to the custom, was a furthering of the concept that love freely given has the power to heal. That Hadrian was at the time suffering from the illness that was later to kill him is quite possible and Antinous may have thought that his death would heal the Emperor, who had only days before saved Antinous's life when a hunted lion nearly felled him.

For whatever reason Antinous entered the waters of the Nile, he did obtain a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as favorite he may well have disappeared from history, but with his death and Hadrian's response to it, he was assured a place in future remembrance."
Many bizarre theories surround the death of the most beautiful boy acolyte of Emperor Hadrian's royal court. What is known, however, is that after his tragic death, Hadrian went through a period of intense, obsessive mourning and "wept for him like a woman" when his lover's body was presented to him.

But more hysterical than his immediate grief, one of Hadrian's most lasting acts (walls excepted, of course) was to create the boy Antinous as a God. Not just any god - but one with his own city (Antinoopolis), his own creed of worship, and even his own constellation in the heavens. This was an astonishing act, because previously in the Roman Empire, deification was only conferred upon emperors.

"Throughout the Empire, Antinous's divinity took on several forms. Most popularly in Greece, he was frequently seen as the divine ephebe who personified the beauty and spirit of youth. On many coins, he is seen as a divine hero, a man who gained immortality and deity through value, virtue, and deed. Another aspect of Antinous is of a lesser god, an aspect of a major god. As an aspect, Antinous was generally connected with Hermes, Dionysos, Iachos, or Osiris, but could also be seen in Apollo, Pan, or various local deities."
In addition, it is fairly obvious that given the era in which his cult emerged, many of his traits were assimilated into those of another, rival, deity - Jesus. His creed was also one of kindness, of healing, and of course, of sacrifice. Regardless, the "beauty" cult of Antinous superseded his "Christianisation", and remained a powerful symbol of gay love for centuries. It helped that Antinous evidently possessed the shapeliest bottom in antiquity!

"Antinous was the last great god to arise from the Roman Empire. A beautiful provincial youth who became the beloved of an Emperor and then a god, Antinous was a strikingly popular figure and a last manifestation of an Ancient spirit that would soon be lost to the world. His name is still known, his features still recognized, and his story even now kindles interest, reverence, and moral controversy. His name is paraded as both a banner of gay pride through history and as a symbol of the decadence of the Roman Empire.

However, no matter what may be thought of his morals and deeds, it is very hard to argue that providing fuel for close to two millennia of debate and speculation is not a remarkable achievement for a small town Grecian boy.
More on Antinous

Thursday, 9 February 2012

"Wichita's one and only burlesque theatre presents..."

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly... very slowly."

"The shoulder strap led to one thing and another, if you know what I mean, and that's how I started in the strip business."

"I wasn't naked, I was completely covered by a blue spotlight."

Gypsy Rose Lee (9th January 1911 – 26th April 1970)

More on Miss Gypsy Rose Lee

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

An imperceptible touch of rouge

"I believe that the histories that will be written about this court after we are gone will be better and more entertaining than any novel, and I am afraid that those who come after us will not be able to believe them and think they are just fairy tales."

Thus Lieselotte of Palatine, the second wife of Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans wrote of her peculiar political marriage and her impressions of the Royal Court of France.
"You may say of this country as the Holy Scriptures have it: ‘All flesh has been inverted.’ I dread that with fashion the vice too will be brought from here into our country. For when the French see a pretty German, they follow him as long as they can, to get him. I know many who did not let themselves be talked into it and escaped honorably — while others have become worse than the French and led such a blasphemous life that one is dumbfounded… Those who take to this vice but believe in the Holy Scriptures think that it was only a sin when there were just a few human beings on earth and what they did could harm mankind by hindering it from multiplying. But now, with the whole world being populated, they consider the thing a permitted digression, though they keep it secret as far as they can to avoid annoying the common man. But persons of rank speak of it openly. They regard it as elegant, also they say that since Sodom and Gomorrha the Lord God has no longer punished anyone for it. You will find me erudite in this text — indeed I have heard of it often since I have been in France… "
Philippe, Duc d'Orleans ("Monsieur"), the brother of King Louis XIV of France, was particularly keen on "this vice".

Having been subject to a politically expedient marriage, the couple did their duty: by 1676, Liselotte had borne three children, of whom two survived, the required male heir and a daughter. However according to none other than Nancy Mitford, who wrote a biography of the couple, Philippe only managed to "keep his pecker up" (as it were) by hanging medals of the Virgin Mary on it! Once duty was done, Philippe turned exclusively to his male lovers; Liselotte turned to her correspondence. Neither was particularly bothered by the separation of bedchambers.

The scandals that surrounded Monsieur throughout his life were numerous and tangled. He was described as having only feminine inclinations, he loved to clean, was anxious about his complexion and loved all female jobs and ceremonies. At a very early age, it was said that Cardinal Mazarin (who oversaw the young Louis' early reign as joint Regent with the boy-king's mother) engineered Phillippe's first homosexual encounters, and placed him in the care of the cross-dressing Abbé de Choisy, in order to "soften him up" and alleviate any potential threat to the throne.

Remarkably, of the two brothers, it was to be the effeminate Monsieur who led his armies to victory - even if the soldiers used to say that he was "more afraid of being sun-burnt and of the blackness of the powder than of the musket-balls".

Courtier and prolific writer Saint Simon talked of Monsieur's appearance in a most disparaging way: "He was always covered with rings, bracelets, jewels, and wore a long black wide spread curly wig. He also had ribbons wherever he could put them; wore all kinds of perfumes, and was a fine model of cleanliness. He was accused of putting on an imperceptible touch of rouge." Liselotte wrote:
Never were two brothers more totally different in their appearance than the King and Monsieur. The King was tall, with light hair ; his mien was good and his deportment manly. Monsieur, without having a vulgar air, was very small ; his hair and eye-brows were quite black, his eyes were dark, his face long and narrow, his nose large, his mouth small, and his teeth very bad ; he was fond of play, of holding drawing-rooms, of eating, dancing, and dress ; in short, of all that women are fond of. The King loved the chase, music, and the theatre ; my husband rather affected large parties and masquerades : his brother was a man of great gallantry, and I do not believe my husband was ever in love during his life. He danced well, but in a feminine manner ; he could not dance like a man because his shoes were too high-heeled."
Saint Simon also wrote of Monsieur's long-lasting affair with the Chevalier de Lorraine. He described Philippe as smitten by the chevalier's good looks and as a result he showered him with money and benefices, while being 'ruled' by him. Phillippe's first wife Henrietta of England did not appreciate this however, and had the king banish the Chevalier de Lorraine. This banishment made Monsieur burst into tears and beg the king to recall him, but that was to no avail. Henrietta died only a little later. According to gossip spread by Saint Simon she was poisoned by two of Lorraine's minions, but according to the official autopsy she died of peritonitis caused by a perforated ulcer.

There were also affairs with the Comte de Guiche and the Marquis d'Effiat, the scandalous deflowering of the teenage Duc de Bourbon, and numerous other "lads" entered the "inner circle" throughout Philippe's life. He lavished his time and his affections - and indeed fortunes - on them, and many remained close to him to the end.

Given the nature of the court of the Roi Soleil at Versailles, there were many suspicions and whispers about the goings-on at Monsieur's residence the Château de Saint Cloud - but remarkably these were more to do with a fear of a "rival court" and of Lieselotte's birthright in Protestant Palatine than genuine outrage at the gay shenanigans. As history would have it, it was the Orleans dynasty that won in the end, as Monsieur's successors went on to form the backbone of the royal houses of Italy, Belgium and France.

Liselotte remained faithful to her husband to the end: When Philippe died suddenly in 1701, his wife immediately burned his lovers’ letters so that others could not see them:

"If people could know in the next world what goes on in this one, Monsieur would be most pleased with me, for I looked out all the letters written to him by his minions and burned them without reading them, so that they would not fall into the hands of others."

In all, the life of Monsieur is enthrallingly camp stuff.

Secret memoirs of the court of Louis XIV by Elizabeth Charlotte (Lieselotte), Duchess of Orleans

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Dizzy and disagreeable?

"Any woman who wishes to smash into the world of men isn't very feminine."

"My agent had told me that he was going to make me the Janet Gaynor of England - I was going to play all the sweet roles. Whereupon, at the tender age of thirteen, I set upon the path of playing nothing but hookers."

"I`m mad they say. I am temperamental and dizzy and disagreeable. Well, let them talk. I can take it. Only one person can hurt me. Her name is Ida Lupino."

"It is fascinating to me that a person`s real private life, they never really know about it. What they don`t know, they make up. But what can they say about me when I have gone? They won`t have anything left. They`ve made up so many lies about me when I`m alive."

"As for Errol being a homosexual - well, I have nothing against those gentlemen, but nothing is farther from the truth."

Ida Lupino (4th February 1918 – 3rd August 1995), actress and pioneering female movie director.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars

"Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars."

"Is it a hardship, is it unfair to have to live in an enchanted space where striving after approval by other not always distinguished human beings is no more than a faraway rumour, frivolous as the place cards at a distant dinner party?"

“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don't see a different purpose for it now.”

Dorothea Tanning, surrealist artist, wife of Max Ernst, who died today aged 101.

Her obituary in The Guardian

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Do of the Day

Her Excellency Chantal Biya, First Lady of Cameroon...

She's probably a bitch but we love her.