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Archive for the ‘gravesites’ Category

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Hamden, Conn.

Thornton Wilder gravesite
Mt. Carmel Cemetery
3801 Whitney Avenue

If you’ve visited my other blog, “A Very Gay Play,” you know that I wrote a play called Their Town on the topic of same-sex marriage that was inspired by Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. It seemed to me the height of irony that the most-produced play in this country – one considered quintessentially American – was written by a closeted gay man.

Though he spent the early part of his life in Wisconsin, California, and Shanghai, Wilder (1897-1975) called Hamden, Conn., home from 1929 on (his home at 50 Deepwood Drive is still standing), and it is in this town that he’s buried.

Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize three times, for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), Our Town (1938), and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). A lifelong bachelor who as a young man described his own walk and mannerisms as “queer,” Wilder was intensely homophobic. He commented to Gore Vidal that “a writer ought not to commit himself to a homosexual situation of the domestic sort” because it would damage his career. As a result, Wilder experienced only arm’s-length infatuations, often with actors (including Montgomery Clift), and brief, clandestine sexual encounters. He would have hated this website (and my play!) – he believed that to speculate on the sexuality of famous writers was simply to “whip up a prurient oh-ha! in millions of people.”

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Pittsburgh, Pa.

Andy Warhol grave
St. John the Baptist Cemetery
Route 88 and
Connor Road

Pop artist and avant-garde filmmaker Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh; he grew up in the East End neighborhood of Oakland (3252 Dawson Street), attending Schenley High School. A devout Byzantine Catholic, he is buried in his family’s plot in this church cemetery. At his grave site, mourners have been known to leave flowers in Campbell‘s soup cans, to honor the memory of one of his most famous artworks.

Claimed as a queer artist, Warhol was in fact enigmatic about his personal life and seems to have been primarily asexual. Graduated from Pittsburgh‘s Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1949, Warhol moved to New York and achieved fame first as a commercial artist. His silkscreens of Campbell‘s soup cans and of Marilyn Monroe in the early 1960s launched his pop art career. Later, he directed such underground films as My Hustler (1965) and Chelsea Girls (1966). Others films, such as Trash, Flesh, and Women in Revolt, were made by director Paul Morrissey and produced by Warhol at his studio, a Manhattan loft called “The Factory,” and gave prominence to such drag queens as Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling.

In 1968, Warhol’s life was almost cut short when Valerie Solanis, a violent lesbian who authored the “SCUM Manifesto” (Society for Cutting Up Men), shot him. Following his recovery, Warhol became more reclusive and abandoned directing, having already experienced significantly more than the “15 minutes of fame” he said everyone would one day enjoy. He died unexpectedly following a routine gall bladder operation, on Feb. 22, 1987, 20 years ago this week. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky Street, opened in Pittsburgh in 1994.

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Handsome Monty

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Brooklyn, N.Y.

Montgomery Clift grave
Brooklyn Friends Cemetery
Prospect Park

Born in Omaha, Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) began his career as a stage actor, before becoming a leading film star of the late 1940s and 1950s. He starred in such now-classic movies as A Place in the Sun, Suddenly Last Summer (both with Elizabeth Taylor, who was unrequitedly in love with him), Red River, Judgment at Nuremberg, and From Here to Eternity.

But an automobile accident in 1956 nearly ended his career, and Clift underwent massive reconstructive surgery on his handsome face. In the middle of filming Raintree County, again with Taylor, Clift had to take months off before he was able to resume work on the film. Mentally and physically affected by his ordeal, Clift continued to make movies but more and more mourned his “disfigurement” through alcohol and drug abuse and died at the early age of 45 of a heart attack.

Clift’s homosexuality was well known in Hollywood, though he tried to keep it from becoming public knowledge for fear it would hurt his career. He had the reputation for being a loner, and most of his sexual encounters were one-night-stands with male hustlers. In 1949, he was arrested for trying to pick up a hustler on 42nd Street in Manhattan, but the incident was hushed up by his handlers. In the early ’50s, he seems to have had a quiet romance with the playwright Thornton Wilder, another gay man who prized “discretion” and suffered from internalized homophobia.

Clift’s primary residence was in Manhattan from 1951 until his death, first at 209 East Sixty-first Street (destroyed by fire in 1960), and then at the elegant three-story brownstone down the block at 217, a house with four bedrooms and six baths. After a funeral service at the Friends Meeting House, East 15th Street, he was buried at this Quaker cemetery in Brooklyn, and his grave was planted with crocuses by his friend, actress Nancy Walker.

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Sharon Hill, Pa.

Bessie Smith grave
Mt. Lawn Cemetery
84th Street and Hook Road

Blues great Bessie Smith (1895-1937) was born into poverty in Tennessee and was discovered singing on street corners at a tender age by Ma Rainey. Though Smith later married a man, she enjoyed numerous sexual relationships with lesbians and bisexual women on the touring circuit, one of whom, Boula Lee, was the wife of her musical director. It has also been suggested that Ma Rainey was her first lover. Smith’s lesbian affairs were a frequent source of tension with her husband, Jack Gee, from whom she eventually separated.

During the 1920s, Smith’s popular “race records” – including “Down-Hearted Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” and “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer” – won her the title “Empress of the Blues.” Tragically, she was killed in an automobile accident while making a concert tour of the South and was buried in an unmarked grave at this site outside of Philadelphia. In 1970, rock singer Janis Joplin – who cited Smith as a major influence on her own career – helped secure this headstone, along with the daughter of Smith’s former maid. A few months later, Joplin herself died of a drug overdose.

…There’s two things got me puzzled / there’s two things I don’t understand / That’s a Mannish acting woman / and a skipping, twistin’ woman-acting man.

– Bessie Smith, “Foolish Man Blues”

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Peru, Ind.

Cole Porter grave site
Mt. Hope Cemetery

He lived at swell-egant addresses in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and the Berkshires, but the ultra-sophisticated Cole Porter (1891-1964) chose to be buried in his hometown of Peru, Indiana, with an unassuming marker. Porter was the son of a local druggist, and at age 8 was enrolled at the nearby Marion Conservatory of Music. There the boy first studied violin and piano and performed at recitals dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy in a velvet suit with lace cuffs. Though one of his biographers claims young Porter was “no prodigy,” he played with a vigor and zest that stole the show. At 10, he composed his first song, “Song of the Birds.”

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