On This Gay Day: Poet Walt Whitman was born in 1819

Poet Walt Whitman was born in 1819

Poet Walt Whitman was born on this day in 1819, described as the father of free verse his poetry was controversial in it’s day for its over sexuality and he often wrote about love between men.

His most acclaimed work is Leaves of Grass a collection of poems he continually added to and reworked over his lifetime. The first edition was published in 1855 and contained 12 poems, the final edition released just before the author’s death in 1892 had over 400 poems. Among the well known poems in the collection are Song of Myself, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking and I Sing the Body Electric.

Historians have debated Whitman’s sexuality and whether he acted upon the feelings he wrote about in his works. Scholars have pointed to writing by other people about the author which suggested he was homosexual. His vagabond lifestyle was adopted by a new generation of beat poets in the 1950’s including Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Bram Stoker also cited Whitman as an influence.

Also born on this day

Actor Denholm Elliot was born in 1922. The actor is best known for roles he took on towards the end of his career, He played Indiana Jones’ boss Marcus Brody in Raider of the Lost Arc and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He had a memorable turn in Trading Places, appeared opposite Nicole Kidman in the miniseries Bangkok Hilton, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in A Room With A View.

Elliot studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts but was asked to leave after a term for not being any good. During World War II he served in the Air Force and shot was shot down and taken prisoner. While a prisoner of war he became involved in amateur dramatics in a prison camp located in Poland. He made his film debut in 1949 and went on to enjoy a long career on the screen.

Elliot was bisexual, he had a short marriage to actress Virgina McKenna in 1954, but later found happiness in an open marriage with actress Susan Robinson. The couple had two children. Elliot was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and passed away in 1992 aged 70.

Actress Sharon Gless is celebrating her 77th birthday today. Gless developed a huge lesbian fan base when she appeared in the 1980’s TV series Cagney and Lacey. Gless made the role of tough policewoman Christine Cagney her own even through she was the third actress to portray the character. M*A*S*H* star Loretta Switt played the part in the original 1981 TV movie, and the first six episodes of the series Meg Foster played Cagney. Producers eventually made it clear that Cagney, like Gless, was heterosexual, but fans enjoyed imagining she was ‘family’ for a long time. Gless got a whole new legion of queer fans when she portrayed Debbie Novotny on five seasons of the popular series Queer as Folk.

Influential theatre director and filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder was born on this day in  1945. Fassbinder was a prolific artist, but the time of his death in 1982 he had completed forty feature films, two television series, three short films, four video productions, and twenty-four plays. Many of his works focused on LGBTI themes including his films The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Fox and His Friends (1975), Satan’s Brew (1976), and Querelle (1982) an adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel Querelle of Brest. Fassbiner died after overdosing on cocaine and barbiturates.

Disco singer Vicki Sue Robinson was born on this day in 1954. She scored her biggest hit in 1976 with the song Turn the Beat Around. The tune would hit the charts again in the 1990’s when it was covered by Gloria Estefan. In the 1980’s Robinson spent her time doing backing vocals and singing jingles. She sang back up on Irene Cara’s Fame and was the voice of Rapture and Minx on the TV series Jem. She scored a second hit in Australia in 1984 when she released a dance version of To Sir With Love. Robinson passed away in 2000.

Leaving us on this day

In the 1970’s Danny La Rue was one of Britain’s highest paid entertainers and was world famous for his female impressions. Dubbed The Grand Dame of Drag, he performed on stage as both himself and in drag. LaRue said the best way to describe his act was ‘comic in a frock”. In 1982 he played Dolly Levi in the musical Hello, Dolly!. He also has the distinction of being the only man to take over a woman’s role in the West End theatre when he replaced Avis Bunnage in Oh, What a Lovely War!

La Rue lived for many years with his manager and life partner, Jack Hanson, until Hanson’s death in 1984. The couple met just after World War II and were together for 37 years. Towards the end of his life LaRue was treated for prostate cancer, and also developed throat cancer. He also had several strokes, before passing away at the age of 81 in 2000.

Jazz composer Billy Strayhorn died on this day in 1967. He worked alongside Duke Ellingtom for three decades and his well known compositions include Take the ‘A’ Train, Chelsea Bridge, A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing, and Lush Life. Strayhorn has a long term relationship with jazz pianist Aaron Bridgers from 1939 until 1947. He was up front about his sexuality and was close friend of Dr Martin Luther King. He passed away after battling esophageal cancer for many years.

OIP Staff


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