Monday, April 23, 2018

Born Today In 1791, President James Buchanan; Was He the First Gay President?

James Buchanan Jr. was born today, April 23, in 1791. He was the 15th president of the United States (1857–61), serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the 17th United States Secretary of State and had served in the Senate and House of Representatives before becoming president. Historians often put him on the short list of one of the worst presidents, but was he also the first gay president?

Buchanan was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania. He became a prominent lawyer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Federalist. In 1820, Buchanan won election to the United States House of Representatives, eventually becoming aligned with Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. After serving as Jackson's Minister to Russia, Buchanan won election as a senator from Pennsylvania. In 1845, he accepted appointment as President James K. Polk's Secretary of State. During Buchanan's tenure as Secretary of State, the United States grew immensely with the conclusion of the Oregon Treaty and victory in the Mexican-American War. From 1853 to 1856 during the presidency of Franklin Pierce, Buchanan served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. 
Buchanan defeated Republican John C. Frémont to win the 1856 U.S. presidential election.

The only president to remain a bachelor, Buchanan's personal life has attracted great historical interest. His biographer Jean Baker argues that Buchanan was asexual or celibate. Several writers have put forth arguments that he was gay, including sociologist James W. Loewen and authors Robert P. Watson and Shelley Ross.

In 1818, Buchanan met Anne Caroline Coleman at a grand ball at Lancaster's White Swan Inn, and the two began courting. By 1819, the two were engaged, but could spend little time together; Buchanan was extremely busy with his law firm and political projects during the Panic of 1819, which took him away from Coleman for weeks at a time. Conflicting rumors abounded. Some suggested that he was marrying for her money, because his own family was less affluent, or that he was involved with other women. Buchanan never publicly spoke of his motives or feelings, but letters from Anne revealed she knew of several rumors. Coleman broke off the engagement, and soon afterward, on December 9, 1819, died suddenly. Buchanan wrote her father for permission to attend the funeral, claiming "I feel happiness has fled from me forever." However, Robert Coleman refused permission.

After Coleman's death, Buchanan never courted another woman, nor seemed to show any emotional or physical interest. Some believe that Anne's death served to deflect awkward questions about Buchanan's sexuality and bachelorhood. During Buchanan's presidency, his orphaned niece, Harriet Lane, whom he had adopted, served as official White House hostess.

Buchanan had a close and intimate relationship with William Rufus King (portrait at right), an Alabamian politician who briefly served as vice president under Franklin Pierce. Buchanan and King lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for many years, from 1834 until King's departure for France in 1844. King referred to the relationship as a "communion", and the two attended social functions together. Contemporaries also noted the closeness. 

Andrew Jackson called King "Miss Nancy" and prominent Democrat Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan's "better half," "wife" and "Aunt Fancy" (the last being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man). Sociologist Loewen noted that "wags" described Buchanan and King as "Siamese twins," that Buchanan late in life wrote a letter acknowledging that he might marry a woman who could accept his "lack of ardent or romantic affection," and also that Buchanan was expelled from his Lancaster church, reportedly for pro-slavery views acquired during the King relationship. Catherine Thompson, the wife of cabinet member Jacob Thompson, later noted that "there was something unhealthy in the president's attitude."

King became ill in 1853 and died of tuberculosis shortly after Pierce's inauguration, four years before Buchanan became president. Buchanan described him as "among the best, the purest and most consistent public men I have known." Jean Baker's biography of Buchanan notes that his and King's nieces may have destroyed some correspondence between Buchanan and King. She opines that the length and intimacy of their surviving letters (one written by King upon his ambassadorial departure being specifically cited by Loewen) illustrate only "the affection of a special friendship."

Born Today In 1932, Iconic Fashion Designer Halston

Roy Halston Frowick was born today, April 23, in 1932. He is known as Halston, and was a fashion designer who rose to international fame in the 1970s. His minimalist, clean designs, often made of cashmere or ultrasuede, were popular fashion wear in mid-1970s discotheques and redefined American fashion. 

An American designer, Halston was well known for creating a style for "American Women." From his point of view, the "American Woman" was about having a relaxed urban lifestyle. He created a new phenomenon in the 1970s. Halston believed that women can wear the same clothing for the entire day on any occasion.

Halston was born in Des Moines, Iowa. He developed an interest in sewing from his grandmother, and he began creating hats and altering clothes for his mother and sister as a boy. He grew up in Des Moines, and moved to Evansville, Indiana at the age of 10. 

In 1952, Halston moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in a night course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and he worked as a window dresser. In 1953, he opened his own hat business. His first customer was radio actress and comedian Fran Allison. Halston's hats were also bought by Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Deborah Kerr and Hedda Hopper.

Halston's first big break came when the Chicago Daily News ran a brief story on his fashionable hats. In 1957, he opened his first shop, the Boulevard Salon, on North Michigan Avenue. It was at this point that he began to use his middle name as his professional moniker. During his childhood he had been referred to as Halston to distinguish between himself and his uncle Roy. 

Halston moved to New York City in late 1957, first working for milliner Lilly Daché. Within a year, he had been named the co-designer at Daché, became acquainted with several fashion editors and publishers, and left Daché's studio to become head milliner for department store Bergdorf Goodman in their customer milliner salon.
Halston achieved great fame after designing the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband's presidential inauguration in 1961, and when he moved to designing women's wear, Newsweek dubbed him "the premier fashion designer of all America." 

When hats fell out of fashion, Halston moved on to designing clothing, made possible by Estelle Marsh, a millionaire from Amarillo, Texas. Mrs. Marsh was his sole financial backer during this critical time of development. He opened his first boutique on Madison Avenue in 1968. The collection that year included a dark jade velvet wedding gown for advertising executive Mary Wells Lawrence. Lawrence was married to the CEO of Braniff International Airways, Harding Lawrence. She would be instrumental in bringing Halston to Braniff in 1976 to design Braniff's hostess, pilot, ticket agent, and ground personnel uniforms.

Halston launched his first ready-to-wear line, Halston Limited, in 1969. Halston's design was usually simple and minimalist but sophisticated, glamorous but also comfortable at the same time. Halston like to use soft, luxurious fabric like silk and chiffon. He later told Vogue that he got rid of "...all of the extra details that didn't work—bows that didn't tie, buttons that didn't button, zippers that didn't zip, wrap dresses that didn't wrap. I've always hated things that don't work." 

Another design characteristics was the use of bias. He believed that clothes cut and sewn from the bias of every fabric can develop a sexy, polished image. In past history, people had the interpretation that shows a woman's body shape was mainly through the curve of the clothing. Halston changed the fitted silhouette and created a new definition of showing the female body shape by allowing the natural flow of the fabric to create its own shape. Halston said "Pants give women the freedom to move around they've never had before. They don't have to worry about getting into low furniture or low sportscars. Pants will be with us for many years to come—probably forever if you can make that statement in fashion." 

In the 1970s, his ultra-suede suit was a big hit. He brought in functionality into fashion. He designed the Ultrasuede shirtdress and re-introduced pants for women. The shirtdress was interpreted as an elongated men's shirt. He also included elements of sportswear and combined it into women's clothing, merging features from both women wear and menswear together.

Halston's boutique drew celebrity clients like Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli (both Jagger and Minnelli would become close friends). From 1968 to 1973, his line earned an estimated $30 million. In 1973, Halston sold his line to Norton Simon, Inc. for $16 million but remained its principal designer. This afforded him creative control with near unlimited financial backing. 

In 1975, Max Factor released Halston's first namesake fragrance for women. By 1977, sales from the perfume had generated $85 million in sales. Throughout the 1970s, Halston had expanded his line to include menswear, luggage, handbags, lingerie and bedding. Vogue later noted that Halston was responsible for popularizing caftans, which he made for Jacqueline Kennedy; matte jersey halter top dresses; and polyurethane in American fashion.

In 1983, Halston signed a 6-year licensing deal, worth a reported $1 billion, with the retail chain J. C. Penney. The line, called Halston III, consisted of affordable clothing, accessories, cosmetics and perfumes ranging from $24 to $200. At the time, the move was considered controversial, as no other high end designer had ever licensed their designs to a mid-priced chain retail store. While Halston was excited about the deal and felt that it would only expand his brand, the deal damaged his image with high-end fashion retailers who felt that his name had been "cheapened." Bergdorf Goodman at the time dropped his Halston Limited line from their store shortly after plans for Halston III were announced. The Halston III line for J. C. Penney was poorly received and was eventually discontinued.

Halston's on again off again lover was Venezuelan-born artist Victor Hugo. The two met while Hugo was working as a make up artist in 1972. The two began a relationship and Hugo lived on and off in Halston's home. Halston soon hired Hugo to work as his window dresser. Their on-and-off relationship lasted a little over 10 years.

In 1988, Halston tested positive for HIV. After his health began to fail, he moved to San Francisco, where he was cared for by his family. On March 26, 1990, he died of Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-defining illness.

From November 2014 to January 2015, a traveling exhibition entitled Halston and Warhol Silver and Suede was sponsored by the Warhol Museum and co-curated by Halston's niece Lesley Frowick. From February to April 2015 an exhibition was held in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to celebrate Halston's 1970s fashions. In March 2017, Halston Style, a retrospective of his career, opened at the Nassau County Museum. Curated by Frowick, it features material derived from his personal archives that he gave to her before his death.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Today In 2014, 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' Opens on Broadway Starring Tony-Winner Neil Patrick Harris

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical about a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender East German singer, Hedwig Robinson. The book is by John Cameron Mitchell, and the music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask. The story draws on Mitchell's life as the son of a U.S. Army Major General who once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin. The character of Hedwig was inspired by a German divorced U.S. Army wife who was a Mitchell family babysitter and moonlighted as a prostitute at her Junction City, Kansas, trailer park home. The music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam rock style of David Bowie (who co-produced the Los Angeles production of the show), as well as the work of John Lennon and early punk performers Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.

The musical opened Off-Broadway in 1998, and won the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. The production ran for 2 years, and was remounted with various casts by the original creative team in other US cities. In 2000, the musical had a London West End production, and it has been produced throughout the world in hundreds of stage productions.

In 2014, the show finally saw its first Broadway incarnation, officially opening today, April 22, in 2014, at the Belasco Theatre.  A national tour of the show began at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre in October 2016 before closing at the Kennedy Center in July 2017.

Neil Patrick Harris starred in the Broadway production. Harris stayed in the production through August 17, 2014. The director was Michael Mayer with musical staging by Spencer Liff. Lena Hall played Yitzhak until April 2015. The Broadway production won three Tony awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Harris) and Best Featured Actress in a musical (Hall). It was also nominated for Best Costume Design for a Musical (Arianne Phillips), who also did the costumes for the original 2001 film.
Hedwig, Broadway, Mike Potter, Makeup, Wig, Design, Yahoo, Beauty
After Harris departed the production, Andrew Rannells (lower left in group above) took over the role of Hedwig on August 20, 2014, followed by Michael C. Hall, who played Hedwig from October 16, 2014, through January 18, 2015. The production then featured co-creator John Cameron Mitchell (lower center), who returned to the role from January 21 to April 26, 2015. Darren Criss (upper right) took over the role of Hedwig on April 29 and played until July 19, 2015. Taye Diggs assumed the role on July 22, 2015, and performed through the production's end.

The Broadway production closed on September 13, 2015, after 22 previews and 507 regular performances.

Happy Birthday to Divine Filmmaker John Waters

John Waters was born today, April 22, in 1946. He is a film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his outrageous cult films.

Waters's 1970s and early 1980s films feature his regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders—among them Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey (aka Eddie the Egg Lady). Starting with Desperate Living (1977), Waters began casting real-life convicted criminals (Liz Renay, Patty Hearst) and controversial people (Traci Lords, a former porn actress).

Waters dabbled in mainstream filmmaking with Hairspray (1988), which introduced Ricki Lake and earned a modest amount in the United States market. In 2002, Hairspray was adapted to a long-running Broadway musical, which itself was adapted to a hit musical film that earned more than $200 million worldwide. After the crossover success of the original film version of Hairspray, Waters' films began featuring familiar actors and celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Edward Furlong, Melanie Griffith, Chris Isaak, Johnny Knoxville, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Kathleen Turner, and Tracey Ullman.

Waters was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His family were upper-middle class Roman Catholics. Waters grew up in Lutherville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. His boyhood friend and muse Glenn Milstead (at right with Water), later known as Divine, also lived in Lutherville.

In 1962, for his 16th birthday, Waters received an 8mm movie camera from his maternal grandmother/

Waters' first short film was "Hag in a Black Leather Jacket." According to Waters, the film was shown only once in a "beatnik coffee house" in Baltimore, although in later years he has included it in his traveling photography exhibit.
Waters has further credited his influences as, among others, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Federico Fellini, William Castle, and Ingmar Bergman. He has stated that he takes an equal amount of joy and influence from high-brow "art" films and sleazy exploitation films.
In January 1966, Waters and some friends were caught smoking marijuana on the grounds of NYU, which he attended briefly; he was soon kicked out of his NYU dormitory. Waters returned to Baltimore, where he completed his next two short films "Roman Candles" and "Eat Your Makeup." These were followed by the feature-length films Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs.

Waters' early campy movies present exaggerated characters in outrageous situations with hyperbolic dialogue. Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living, which he labeled the Trash Trilogy, pushed hard at the boundaries of conventional propriety and movie censorship. A particularly notorious scene from Pink Flamingos, added as a non sequitur to the film's end, featured—in one continuous take without special effects—a small dog defecating and Divine eating its feces.

Waters’ 1981 film Polyester starred Divine opposite former teen idol Tab Hunter. Since then, his films have become less controversial and more mainstream, although works such as Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker, and Cecil B. Demented still retain his trademark inventiveness. 

In 2004, the NC-17-rated A Dirty Shame marked a return to his earlier, more controversial work of the 1970s.

In 2007, Waters became the host ("The Groom Reaper") of 'Til Death Do Us Part, a program on America’s Court TV network featuring dramatizations of marriages that soured and ended in murder.

Since the early 1990s, Waters has been making photo-based artwork and installations that have been internationally exhibited in galleries and museums. In 2004, the New Museum in New York City presented a retrospective of his artwork. His most recent exhibition was Rear Projection in April 2009, at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles.

Waters' pieces are often comical, such as "Rush" (2009), a super-sized, tipped-over bottle of poppers (nitrite inhalants) and "Hardy Har" (2006), a photograph of flowers that squirts water at anyone who traverses a taped line on the floor. Waters has characterized his art as conceptual: "The craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation."

In 2014, Waters was nominated for a Grammy-award for the spoken word version of his book, Carsick.

An out gay man, Waters is an avid supporter of gay rights and gay prideAlthough he maintains apartments in New York City and San Francisco, and a summer home in Provincetown, Waters still mainly resides in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, where most of his films were set. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Today in 1966, Three Homosexuals Walk Into A Bar -- Making LGBTQ History By Having a 'Sip-In'

The men at Julius’ in 1966. After they announced they were gay, the
bartender refused to serve them. 
Credit: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
On April 21, 1966, members of the New York Chapter of the Mattachine Society staged a "Sip-In" at the bar which was to change the legal landscape. Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, the society's president and vice president respectively, and another society activist, John Timmons, planned to draw attention to the practice by identifying themselves as homosexuals before ordering a drink in order to bring court scrutiny to the regulation. The three were going to read from Mattachine stationary "We are homosexuals. We are orderly, we intend to remain orderly, and we are asking for service."

The New York Times reported on April 20, 2016:

On a bright, warm day [52] years ago this week [on April 21, 1966], three young men went out to have a drink that they hoped would make history.

The men, members of the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society, aimed to challenge bars that refused service to gay people, a common practice at the time, though one unsupported by any specific law. Such refusals fell under a vague regulation that banned taverns from serving patrons deemed “disorderly.”

“At the time, being homosexual was, in itself, seen as disorderly,” said Dick Leitsch, 81, reminiscing the other day in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Mr. Leitsch, then the head of Mattachine’s New York chapter, and his cohorts called their action a “Sip-In,” a tipsy tip of the hat to the civil rights lunch-counter sit-ins then being held at places that segregated black patrons. The Sip-In was a pivotal moment for the gay rights movement, predating the Stonewall uprising by more than three years. That it is largely forgotten says a lot about how the gay political conversation has shifted over the past five decades.
Dick Leitsch, left, and Randy Wicker, two participants in the 1966 “Sip-In,” at Julius’
in the West Village.
Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

On the day of the Sip-In, the activists invited four newspaper reporters, including Thomas A. Johnson of The New York Times. The plan was to convene at noon at the Ukrainian-American Village Hall, a bar on St. Marks Place. “But we were 10 minutes late,” Mr. Leitsch said with a laugh.

The Times reporter arrived on time, tipping off the owners, who shut the place. A sign in the window made the management’s attitude clear: “If you are gay, please stay away.”

In desperation, the group trudged over to Julius’ on West 10th Street. “It was a rather dull neighborhood place which was about three-quarters gay,” said Randy Wicker, 78, who joined the action there. “I called it a closet-queen bar.”

The activists knew Julius’ had to refuse them, because the night before, a man who had been served there had later been entrapped by an officer for “gay activity,” meaning the bar was in jeopardy of having its liquor license revoked. As they entered, the men spied a sign that read “Patrons Must Face the Bar While Drinking,” an instruction used to thwart cruising.

As soon as Mr. Leitsch approached, the bartender put a glass in front of him. When the men announced they were gay, the bartender put his hand over the glass; it was captured in a photograph by Fred McDarrah for The Village Voice.

According to Mr. Wicker and Mr. Leitsch, their battle to be served was a subset of a larger issue: the ritualized police entrapment of gay men for intent to have sex. “With this action, we were entrapping them into obeying the law,” Mr. Wicker said.

The next day’s New York Times featured an article about the event with the headline “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars.” Two weeks later, a far more sympathetic piece appeared in The Voice. The publicity prompted a response from the chairman of the State Liquor Authority, Donald S. Hostetter, who denied that his organization ever threatened the liquor licenses of bars that served gays. The decision to serve was up to individual bartenders, he said.

At that point, the Commission on Human Rights got involved. Its chairman, William H. Booth, told The Times in a later article: “We have jurisdiction over discrimination based on sex. Denial of bar service to a homosexual solely for that reason would come within those bounds.”

See the full New York Times story here.

Happy Birthday to Actress and Model Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark was born today, April 21, in 1985. She is a British actress and model. She had a central role in the feature film A Perfect Ending (2012). She played the fictional vampire goddess Lilith in the HBO television series True Blood

She appeared on the cover of the October 2012 issue of Vogue India. In 2015, she had a central role in the satirical thriller Pocket Listing. Her most recent film was a low-budget comedy-drama, Meat Puppet: The Filmed Experience (2017), in which she played a porn star.

Clark, who is of
Irish, Indian, and Nigerian descent, grew up in London. At 16, she won a national modeling competition, and signed with Models 1. Choosing initially to combine modeling with her studies, Clark attended the London School of Economics as a law undergraduate with the intention of pursuing a law career.

Barbara Niven and Jessica Clark in A Perfect Ending
However, the success of her modeling career led her to leave the program after 18 months, and move first to Paris and then a year later to New York City. Jessica has worked with such notable clients as Hermes, Redken, and L’Oreal. She has also appeared in magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, and Jalouse. She walked the runway for designers such as Hermes, Bottega Venetta, and Matthew Williamson.

While living in New York City Jessica had trained as an actress, and in 2011 relocated to Los Angeles where she has had success in TV and Independent film.

Clark is an out lesbian. She is known as one of the hosts of the Vlog Lesbian love, at She married fitness professional Lacey Stone in 2010, but the couple divorced in 2012.