“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalize people for this.” —Pope Francis (1936– )
Today, the tour that I developed and will be leading for Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark in Brooklyn, makes its debut. This tour’s theme is the gay men and lesbians who are buried at Green-Wood. In a previous post I highlighted others who are part of the tour. This post focuses on the tour’s gay men and lesbians that I will be talking about.
Although Green-Wood is non-sectarian, anyone of any faith or no faith at all can be buried here, the iconography throughout the cemetery is predominately Christian. That is true for the first sight that visitors see when coming to Green-Wood, the 1860 entry gates. John M. Moffitt sculpted scenes from the New Testament over the entry ways; he used Nova Scotia yellow sandstone. On the eastern elevation the scenes are “The Raising of Lazarus” and “The Resurrection of Jesus.” On the western side the scenes depicted are “The Crucifixion” and “The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter”
A colony of Monk Parakeets nest in the highest spire of Green-Wood’s main gatehouse. These blue-green birds, native to the mountainous regions of South America, are classified as released exotics. The birds escaped in the 1960s when a crate of black-market Monk Parakeets broke open at JFK airport. Winters in Brooklyn are similar to those in South America; the birds have thrived, nesting on the lighting fixtures at the Brooklyn College athletic field, as well here. The parakeet gets its name from the patch of gray on its head resembling a monk’s cap. At first, Green-Wood’s grounds crew destroyed the nests, but no longer. The decision was based on a chemical analysis of pigeon feces, which destroy brownstone, and Monk Parakeet feces, which have no ill effect. The Monk Parakeets keep pigeons from nesting in the gate. They are helping to preserve this historic structure!
Green-Wood has appropriated its magnificent, landmarked red sandstone gates for its logo. The sandstone, known popularly as brownstone, was quarried in Belleville, NJ.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869) is the first stop on what I lovingly call the Gay Graves Tour. He was born in the Big Easy before it was known as the Big Easy; his mother was Creole and his father, an English Jew. From an early age Mr. Gottschalk demonstrated exceptional musical talent. In his early teens he was sent to France for formal training. In Paris he gave recitals that became the must-attend musical events of the day. Frederick Chopin called Mr. Gottschalk “the king of pianists.”
Indeed, Mr. Gottschalk would go on to become the mid-19th century equivalent of Liberace, a natural showman. Gottschalk was also a composer, giving the Creole-influenced music of his youth a respectable classical treatment.
Was he gay? A 1995 biography of Gottschalk, “BAMBOULA! The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk,” by S. Frederick Starr says yes. The author points out that Mr. Gottschalk was without involvement with women; on the contrary he had ardent, loving male friendships. While on a tour in Spain, Mr. Gottschalk adopted, not legally, an 8-year-old Spanish boy, whom he kept with him. The musician’s numerous extensive tours are seen as an excuse for not marrying. The reasoning goes that if he was on the road so frequently he could not be a good husband and father. The life-long bachelor pianist died aged 40 in Brazil of a burst appendix. He was leading a 700-piece orchestra in his composition “Morte.”
The National Sculpture Society and the Green-Wood Historic Fund, through its Saved in Time Project worked with the New York City sculptural team of Jill Burkee and Giancarlo Biagi to create a new “Angel of Music.” It was unveiled in October 2012. The original white marble angel sculpture was vandalized and destroyed in 1958.
Our next stop is the graveside of America’s maestro, Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990). He wrote music for the Broadway stage, including 1944’s “On The Town” (my favorite!) 1953’s “Wonderful Town,” 1956’s “Candide” and for one of the 20th century’s most enduring musicals, 1957’s “West Side Story.” He began composing in the early 1940s and continued into the 1980s with his 1983 opera, “A Quiet Place.” This opera tells a tale of suffering the loss of a loved one and a father’s acceptance of a gay son.
Mr. Bernstein will be always associated with the New York Philharmonic as a conductor; he was the orchestra’s music director from 1958–1969.
Was he gay? Because Mr. Bernstein married Felicia Cohn Montealegre the Costa Rican-born American actress in 1951 and fathered three children, people say he was bisexual. It has been suggested that he married to quiet the rumors about his sexuality; he hoped to win an appointment as the conductor of a major orchestra. One of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” collaborators, librettist Arthur Laurents, who was himself gay, said his friend was “… a gay man who married. He was not conflicted about his sexual orientation at all. He was just gay.” Felicia wrote to Mr. Bernstein in a 1952 letter, “You are a homosexual and may never change.”
Although his parents wanted to name him Leonard, and did call him that all his life, Mr. Bernstein was named Louis at the insistence of his grandmother; he changed his first name to Leonard when he was 15 years old, shortly after his grandmother’s death. Mr. Bernstein was intolerant of being called Lenny by anyone outside his inner circle. He corrected those who pronounced his last name Burn-steen; he preferred the German pronunciation, Burn-stine. Bernstein means amber in German.
Our next stop is the person I call the hero of the tour, Dr. Richard A. Isay (1934–2012). He was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who, at his death, was a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and a faculty member at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.
During the 1950s, when Dr. Isay trained, homosexuality was viewed by the psychiatric community as a “lower level of psychological development.” Psychiatrists were taught that being gay was something that could be cured through therapy; openly gay professionals were barred from training as analysts at institutions accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association.
Early in his career, Dr. Isay accepted the mainstream view; but he had questions about his own sexuality. He spent 10 years in therapy. In the early 1970s, after the sessions had ended, he accepted that he was gay. By that time, he was married and the father of two sons. For the rest of the 1970s he hid his homosexuality from his colleagues, his wife and children; during this time he developed treatments that would allow his gay patients to accept themselves, not trying to turn them straight.
In 1979 he met the love his life, Gordon Harrell. Dr. Isay began writing that homosexuality was normal, not an illness or a matter of arrested development. He told his wife he was gay in 1980. They agreed to remained married for the betterment of their sons, eventually divorcing in 1989.
Although the American Psychiatric Association had stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973, many psychoanalysts continued to see being gay as a treatable illness. Dr. Isay tried various forms of persuasion but his colleagues resisted his ideas.
In 1992, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, he threatened a lawsuit based on New York State’s law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the work place. The goal was to force the APsaA to give up its discriminatory practices against openly gay people training to be psychoanalysts and practicing psychoanalysis. The group gave in; and the lawsuit was not filed. Dr. Isay convinced the field that their view was based on ideology, not evidence. Dr. Isay authored three books, “Being Homosexual,” 1989; “Becoming Gay,” 1996; and “Commitment and Healing,” 2006.
To end on an upbeat note, Dr. Isay married his partner of 32 years, Gordon Harrell in 2011.
The grave of Emma Stebbins (1815–1882) is our next stop and the first of the two lesbian artists on the tour.
Miss Stebbins was born and died in New York City. Her well-to-do family encouraged her artistic talent. In 1857, sponsored by her brother Henry G. Stebbins, head of the New York Stock Exchange, she moved to Rome.
In Rome, Miss Stebbins—originally trained as a painter—shifted her interest to marble figure sculpture. Henry James referred to the marble sculptresses in mid-19th century Rome as “a white Marmorean flock.” Miss Stebbins not only found a new career in Rome but true love as well. She fell in love with the noted American actress Charlotte Saunders Cushman, who was famous for playing such male roles as Romeo and Hamlet. Miss Stebbins supported herself through sculpture commissions, many from Americans. Miss Cushman promoted her lover’s work.
Miss Stebbins is best known for the fabulous bronze sculpture, the Angel of the Waters, at Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. It was designed and cast in 1868, but was not unveiled until 1873, when the park was officially completed. Miss Stebbins used her lover as the model for the angel. With this in mind, it could be said that a lesbian stands in the middle of Central Park.
Using Miss Cushman as the model for the angel of Bethesda’s healing waters was especially poignant, because Stebbins helped to nurse Miss Cushman during her bout with breast cancer from 1869 to 1871. Miss Stebbins received the commission for the angel as a result of her brother Henry’s influence. He was president of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, a work-in-progress then. Henry was proud of his sister’s talent and hoped to have many examples of her art in Central Park. It was not to be. Following Miss Cushman’s death in 1876 Miss Stebbins never sculpted again. Miss Cushman is buried at America’s first rural cemetery, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.
The Angel of the Waters was created to celebrate the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842; this engineering accomplishment brought fresh water to New York City. The fountain is considered to be one of the great works of 19th-century American sculpture. Miss Stebbins’ bronze likeness of Horace Mann was placed outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston in 1865.
Violet Oakley (1874–1961) is our second lesbian artist on the tour. She trained as an illustrator at Drexel University; and was the first American woman to receive a commission for a public mural. Up until the early 20th century it was thought that women, because of their long skirts and corsets, could not handle the physical demands of mural painting. In addition, it was believed that women lacked the intellectual capacity to imagine the grand allegorical subjects that murals involved. Miss Oakley dispelled all such concerns. She excelled at murals and stained glass designs with historic and literary themes; she worked in the Renaissance-revival style.
Miss Oakley painted a series of 43 murals in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg for the Governor’s Grand Reception Room, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Originally she was commissioned only to paint the murals in the Governor’s Grand Reception Room. When Edwin Austin Abbey (1852–1911), who had been commissioned to paint the Senate and Supreme Court Chambers, died suddenly in 1911, Miss Oakley was offered the job of creating the murals. The project would take 16 years.
Miss Oakley was part of what was known as a Boston marriage; the same could be said of Miss Stebbins and Miss Cushman. The phrase Boston marriage was coined by Henry James in his novel “The Bostonians.” It refers to women who live together without financial or other means of support from men. Mr. James’ sister Alice was part of a Boston marriage.
Miss Oakley lived with her fellow illustrators, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith, at the Red Rose Inn in Villanova from 1899 to 1901. They were known as the Red Rose Girls. They later made a home together, along with Henrietta Cozens, in Mt. Airy, a Philadelphia neighborhood; they called the house Cogslea using the first letters of the their surnames as the first letters of Cogslea. In 1996, Miss Oakley was the last of the Red Rose Girls to be to elected to the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. Only 10 women are so honored. Cogslea was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 as the Violet Oakley Studio.
Our next stop is the hilltop grave of Paul Jabara (1948–1992). He was a Brooklyn boy of Lebanese heritage. He was part of the original Broadway cast of “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He stepped into the role of Frank-N-Furter in the Los Angeles production of “The Rocky Horror Show” when Tim Curry left to film the movie version.
Mr. Jabara wrote Donna Summer’s hit “Last Dance” from 1978’s “Thank God It’s Friday;” he won an Oscar and a Grammy for that song. He also wrote 1979’s “The Main Event/Fight;” Barbra Streisand sang it in “The Main Event”. In 1979 he co-wrote “It’s Raining Men” with Paul Shaffer. Jabara presented the song to Sony Records and he was turned down. The executives could not understand how it could rain men. Mr. Jabara got angry, pointing out “If it can rain cats and dogs, it can rain men!” Later Sony published and distributed the song after discos began playing it. The Weather Girls had a 1982 hit with this disco classic.
Mr. Jabara co-founded the Red Ribbon Project in 1991, and is credited with conceiving and distributing the first AIDS Red Ribbon. Mr. Jabara died from AIDS after a long illness in Los Angeles at the age of 44. Yes, he was gay.
Our final stop on the Gay Graves Tour is the waterside mausoleum of Fred Ebb (1928–2004). This Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Olivier and Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mr. Ebb graduated from New York University, before getting his master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.
In 1953 Fred Ebb got his first professional songwriting assignment. He and Phil Springer were hired by Columbia Records to write a song, “Heartbroken,” for Judy Garland. Mr. Ebb and composer John Kander were introduced in 1964; their first successful collaboration was “My Coloring Book,” recorded by Barbra Streisand.
Kandor & Ebb’s “Flora, the Red Menace” made Liza Minnelli a star, winning her a Tony Award for her Broadway debut. In 1966, their musical “Cabaret” won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. The 1972 movie version of “Cabaret” won eight Academy Awards. The same year, the Kandor & Ebb team wrote songs for Liza Minnelli’s television special “Liza with a Z,” which received an Emmy Award.
In 1975, the duo wrote “Chicago.” The musical was successfully revived 20 years later as part of New York’s City Center ENCORES! Series; it was then given a full Broadway production. It is currently the longest running revival in Broadway history. The 2002 feature film “Chicago” won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Mr. Ebb had a close relationship with Liza Minnelli. He wrote the Broadway shows “Liza,” in 1974, and “The Act” in 1977 for her. Mr. Ebb gave her away at her 1974 wedding to Jack Haley Jr.
Fred Ebb shares the gray granite mausoleum with two other men. Their names and the phrase “Together Forever” are carved on the front wall. Edwin Aldridge (1929-1997) stage-managed a number of Kander & Ebb shows. When Mr. Aldridge died his New York Times obit read, in part, “He is survived by his closest friend, Fred Ebb.” Martin Cohen (1926 – 1995), also entombed with Mr. Ebb and Mr. Aldridge, is a mystery; I could find nothing about him.
Mr. Ebb and Mr. Kandor were a product of the times in which they were raised. Neither would discuss publicly their homosexuality. Instead, they have said, anything they want to say have about homosexuality has been said through their songs. At the 2003 televised Tony Awards, when the song writing team and life partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman kissed when accepting their Tony for “Hairspray,” Fred Ebb was not pleased. “I thought they made a spectacle of themselves, frankly,” Mr. Ebb complained. “Your bedroom is not the screen. And it is also not the stage.”