samedi 28 juillet 2012

Bill Miller the Heartbreaker

"The most beautiful person I ever saw. It was instant." Otis Bigelow met Bill Miller (1921-1995) at a party, and fifty years later he still remembered the moment. "A Frank Sinatra recording of I'll Be Seeing You was playing on the phonograph. We went out and had dinner. So I was in love, and he was in love. He was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and we kind of spent that month together." Bill Miller is also famous among his contemporaries as one of the most gorgeous men in the 1940s. He knew and frequently slept with the rich, the famous and the brilliant. While the rest of the world struggled through World War II and its aftermath, Bill Miller tasted the cream of Manhattan gay life, his life centering around parties, yachts and grand hotels. His social circle in New York (and later Europe) included Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau, George Cukor and many other figures from litterature, the visual arts and cafe society. Surprisingly, Miller was never a professional model. Paul Cadmus draw him, George Platt Lynes photographed him, and everyone wanted him. Miller was by far the most powerful attraction Bigelow had ever felt. "We were at the Waldorf Astoria in the suite of some wealthy man who invited us to stay over in the spare bedroom", Bigelow remembered. "We were in bed. I looked at Bill, and I thought 'I can't live without him.' And that was that." Bigelow finally admitted to himself that he really was gay. "I had to face the fact that I had changed."

Bigelow's life was complicated somewhat by the fact that he had met a man named George Gallowhur (1905-1974) earlier in the summer, [...] a dashing thirty-seven-year-old industrialist with a slightly higher public profile [...]. Paul Cadmus remembered [him] as someone who "gave the appearance of being very, very businesslike and a straight American", but who actually "loved to go in for sailors and things like that." Gallowhur fell madly in love with Bigelow, who found him "stunning", but did not reciprocate his feelings. To entice the young undergraduate, Gallowhur made the young man an extraordinary offer. Bigelow was about to enter his final year in the Naval Reserve Officer Training program at Hamilton. If the student would live with him, Gallowhur had the power to keep his promise, and to specify that Bigelow could not be sent to the Pacific. Bigelow was still seeing Gallowhur when he met Bill Miller, "so I had to tell George I couldn't see him anymore." Gallowhur begged him to reconsider. "Let me give a dinner party for six people", the industrialist suggested. Bigelow could bring Bill, who would sit next to Gallowhur at dinner ; afterward Bigelow could choose between them. "Give me a chance!" Gallowhur pleaded. Bigelow agreed and brought Miller to Turtel Bay. After coffee had been served, Gallowhur took Bigelow aside. "Have you made your choice?" he inquired. "Yes", said Bigelow. "It's Bill." Bigelow and Miller had only one more week together before Bigelow had to go back to college. "We were so happy", Bigelow remembered. "I went back to school and he went back into the Coast Guard." The sailor wrote Bigelow a single letter : he said he was "dead" without him, and Bigelow believed that Miller was shipping out. In november, Bigelow returned to New York for Thanksgiving. He was glum, thinking that Miller might have already perished at sea.

In Manhattan, he stayed with George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968), a famous fashion photographer for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Hoyningen-Huene had been born in St Petersburg at the turn of the century ; his parents were a Baltic nobleman and the daughter of the American minister to the court of the czar. The photographer was forty-two when Bigelow met him, and he kept himself fit with regular visits to the gym - a custom that would become almost universal among a certain class of gay men three decades later. After Bigelow had done some modeling for his host, Hoyningen-Huene tried to coax him into bed. When Bigelow refused him, Hoyningen-Huene became furious, and started to shout : "You're doing all this moping around about that sailor Bill! Did you know that Bill has been living in Turtle Bay with George Gallowhur since about three days after you left?" Bigelow was stunned. It was the "cruelest thing" he had ever experienced. It was also his awakening.

(from The Gay Metropolis by Charles Kaiser)

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