Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2004-2005

Warren Allen Smith

Stateside Gossip

by Warren Allen Smith

Cole Porter (1891-1964) is well known as the gay songwriter of “Begin the Beguine” (1935), “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (1936), and “Night and Day” (1947). In 1919 he married his lifelong best friend, Linda Thomas, and they remained sexless together until her death in 1954. But was he a non-believer? Yes, according to ex-Christian Dan Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.

In Freethought Today, Barker recounts how, when Porter was admitted to the hospital in 1964 and asked by a nurse filling out admittance forms about his religion, he replied, “Put down none”. “Protestant?” asked the nurse. “Put down – none,” Porter reiterated. Robert Raison, his friend, who had accompanied Porter, suggested that because he had been a Baptist why not put down Protestant? Cole refused, even when his condition had changed for the worse and he was near death.

“He was never a believer, and his several comments about his mother’s attachments to Peru [Indiana] churches were dismissive,” wrote biographer William McBrien (Cole Porter, 1998), which biographer and friend George Eells also reported, saying his mother went to church “to show off her new hats”. At the age of 70, further documenting his non-theistic beliefs, Porter told his social secretary, Mrs Everett W. Smith, that he found no comfort “in trying to believe in a Supreme Being”.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, he wrote for a dancer and choreographer whom he had had a long romantic relationship with, Nelson Barclift. To Barclift, describing a religious feast of St Joseph he once had seen, Porter said he didn’t have much use for such a day, that Joseph “resents being called the husband of the Virgin Mary & you know what she produced”.

Porter also had infatuations and relationships with Russian dancer Boris Kochno and architect Eddy Tauch. His “Anything Goes” was strongly decried by churchgoers. In the 1930s, the Hayes Office, carrying out censorship guidelines, possibly led him to tone down the penultimate line of “Begin the Beguine” from “And we suddenly know the sweetness of sin” to “And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in”.

His 1953 Can-Can deliberately battled Puritanism, leading The Catholic News to deplore the scanty costumes worn by Gwen Verdon. But Irving Berlin, a fellow non-believer, wrote Porter that he had seen the show with his daughter, and “It’s a swell show and I still say, to paraphrase an old barroom ballad, ‘Anything I can do, you can do better’.”

In his article entitled “Live and Let Live”, Barker mentions that the 1946 movie of “Night and Day” starred “an uncomfortably miscast Cary Grant in a fanciful biopic that pointedly ignored the fact that the famous composer was notoriously gay”. After seeing the film, Porter himself remarked, “It’s a dream.” When asked what kind of a dream, he replied, “I’d prefer not to say.”

Santa Claus keeps arriving earlier. By October 25 he was urging everyone to max out their credit cards before Christmyth. On the airwaves, listeners again became the annual captive audience for “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Rock”. Few, however, are aware that the composers of those two works were agnostics. Irving Berlin was not writing about a Christ but about the coming of a season. The rock song’s lyrics were written by two unknowns: lyricist Joe Beal and composer James Roth Boothe. They came up with the unlikely hit in 1942 and were surprised that it became a hit in 1957. My companion of 40 years, Fernando Vargas, was one of Boothe’s recording engineers. Jim told the two of us vivid descriptions of his activities in public toilets, movie balconies, and The Rambles in Central Park. At Fernando’s and my Variety Recording Studio in the 1970s, Jim once asked us to cash a thousand-dollar cheque representing royalties from Australia and New Zealand alone. Let’s just say that the very successful Boothe, who died in 1977, was anything but a theist, but he did religiously get down prayer-like on his knees as often as he could - in bathhouse shower rooms.

Alexander, Oliver Stone’s $155-million film, is being praised by some as the “first honest portrayal of a gay historical figure”. Gay critic Steve Weinstein, however, calls it Alexander the Lousy. He found the flick dull, “as though you’ve just sat through a three-hour community college Intro to Western Civ 101 lecture”. In the “time-honored Hollywood tradition” of using British English to imply class, Philip is said to speak with a burr while Alexander uses American Standard Newscaster. And why does Colin Ferrell’s hair make him look “at various times like a street punk, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Frampton, and Hilary Clinton”? And why do the computer-simulated battle hordes look obviously phoney, and why is Alexander called “Great” at least four times – about 500 years before the name was coined – for starters? Weinstein also finds hilarious the scene in which Alexander comforts Hephaestion on his deathbed.

Far more gays are raving about Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson and directed by gay writer Bill Condon. In the first two minutes, the film begins mocking Christianity, shows a preacher who denounces modernity (zippers, telephones, electricity, and autos are claimed by him to have been spawned by Satan), and recounts how zoologist Alfred Kinsey, although raised a Methodist, never attended church.

The movie is consummately successful in showing how his 1948 and 1953 studies about sexual behavior turned America’s sexual mores upside down. Sexual practices are talked about more directly than in any other movie that comes to mind, and Kinsey’s visit to a gay bar to find some of the tens of thousands to be interviewed about their sexual practices is hilarious.

During the movie’s opening week, the religious right screamed out against the portrayal of the atheistic Kinsey and all that he stood for. When you see the movie, don’t leave before the end credits. Included is archival footage provided by the Kinsey Institute of copulating animals, including porcupines.

Several years before he died, I asked painter and fellow freethinker Paul Cadmus what Kinsey was like during the interview, one administered separately to his companion, photographer Jared French. It was strictly business, very thorough, statistics-gathering, he told me – the first orgasm, the size of the penis when flaccid and when erect, how much activity per week, etc. And did he think Kinsey was gay? Yes, Cadmus thought he probably was, and this was before it was generally known that Kinsey had had homosexual experiences.

Alan Cumming, who starred on Broadway in Cabaret, is the freethinker whose fragrance – appropriately priced at $69 for a 3.4-ounce bottle and called Cumming – will go on sale in February. It’s the ideal gift for those who’d like squirts of Cumming all over their bodies.

Not to change the subject, according to Michael Musto in Village Voice, Gore Vidal once observed in some unknown context that “Boys are expected to squirt as often as possible in order to fructify an egg.”

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Created : Sunday, 2005-02-13 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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