Sunday, 17 December 2017

What I'm reading: a Superstar's busy - and varied - Sex life

Wow. This is a deeper dirt-digging biography than any of those by Kitty Kelley. Darwin Porter charts the long career of Paul Newman – ‘the man with the baby blues,’ it says on the cover, referencing his eyes, not his tears in the crib. The author also charts Newman’s sexual history – and what a history it is!

Mr Porter’s main sources seem to be Eartha Kitt, Shelley Winters and an actress known as Vampiria, all of whom claimed close confidence with the blue-eyed star. Porter reports whole conversations which can only be recon-structions based on ‘information received’. There are some startling revelations here, starting with the main one: Paul Newman’s bisexuality which will come as a shock (unbelievable even) to many of his lifelong fans around the globe.

Grace Kelly: (not) 'the ice princess'
Early in his career Newman was competing for roles with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. According to the author, he had sex with all of the above – even ‘love affairs’ with some of them. Some stellar ladies’ reputations are also trashed here. Gary Cooper is quoted as saying that Grace Kelly ‘looks like a cold bitch before you take her pants down – and then she explodes.’ As well as Grace’s sheets, Newman got to perform on Joan Crawford’s, Lana Turner’s and – OMG! – Sandra Dee’s and Audrey Hepburn’s.

We all (nearly all) like juicy gossip, don't we? But at close to 500 pages this is tittle-tattle 'overkill': an exhaustive – and exhausting – catalogue of all the roles Newman played or failed to get, plus all the men and women he ‘dated’. There are a few gems among all the sleazy details: Judy Garland unzipped his trousers on a nightclub dance floor; ‘I like to check out what I’m getting.’ There’s a memorable ‘cross-over’ moment when Newman is having sex with Kim Stanley (whom he met at the Actors Studio in 1952); after Paul ticks her off for calling out the name of ‘Marlon’ in the heat of passion, she tells him: ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be fucked by Marlon Brando.’ Paul’s answer cannot have been the one she was expecting!

Newman & Woodward: the 'Golden Couple'
Joanne Woodward, the second Mrs Newman, knew she was marrying a serial philanderer, although it's clear that she was the great female love of his life. As to the great male love, we are told that Brandon de Wilde, his cute young co-star in Hud (1963), played a supporting role in Paul’s private life for many years after Hud; but so, if Darwin Porter is to be believed, did Steve McQueen. It really is La La Land out there.

It’s not all sex. Actually, it mostly is. And it’s not all about Paul, although, again, it mostly is – obviously. A jaunty incidental revelation is Anthony Perkins’s claim that he lost his (hetero-sexual) ‘virginity’ at the age of 44 with none other than Dallas’s Victoria Principal. And – a spooky detail I’d not heard before – Tony Perkins’s widow, Berinthia Berenson, was a passenger in one of the jets flown into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

The ‘Casting Couch’ is back in the headlines this year. In Newman’s early days it was seen as going with the territory that he would kneel to or be knelt in front of by agents, producers, directors, studio execs – not all of the time, but a lot of the time. More surprises when the author names men who have, however briefly, trod the ‘lavender path’. Tyrone Power is quoted telling Paul that director John Ford ‘used to throw John Wayne on his casting couch back in the Stone Age.’ Pass the smelling salts! Robert Stack, an early lover of Paul’s, claimed to have shared his sheets with, among many others, Howard Hughes and Jack Kennedy. Come on!

After he married Joanne Woodward (1958) Paul Newman had a stock answer when interviewers asked if he was ever tempted to ‘stray’ with any of the gorgeous leading ladies he partnered onscreen; his regular reply was “Why go out for hamburger when you’ve got steak at home?’ This revealing biography suggests that Paul got through a lot of hamburgers during his marriage to Ms Woodward. At the risk of sounding crude (this is a fairly crude book) I’m tempted to say that quite a lot of sausages were also consumed. 

Newman and Brandon de Wilde in HUD (1963)

Saturday, 15 July 2017

What I'm reading: the judge's gay son

Adam Mars-Jones: 

KID GLOVES


Subtitled ‘A Voyage Round My Father’ (borrowing from John Mortimer’s memorable biography), this is a subtle and charming memoir from one of Britain’s leading gay writers. William Mars-Jones was a Queens Counsel, a Knight and a High Court Judge. As a father he was somewhat Victorian, not touchy-feely like today’s dads (up to and including Prince William), not noted for humour, more generous with criticism than praise. He was also homo-phobic, making him a less than ideal parent for Adam. The process by which he came to terms with his son’s homosexuality was a slow one, helped to a considerable degree by the onset of dementia. Ironically it was the gay son who offered the most support during the judge’s long decline.

Adam takes us through the highlights of his father’s illustrious career, but it is the family ‘saga’ that provides the most engrossing element of the book. Some of the peripheral characters are wonderfully presented: the agency carers, lawyers great and small, and Adam’s lovers (odd that he makes them peripheral to his memoir) – one of whom died of Aids at 26.

William’s wife, Sheila, died before him, of a grim cancer. She died at home, in a separate bedroom from her husband to spare him, with his own health struggles, full exposure to her death. ‘She had uncoupled the marital train and left her husband behind in a siding,’ Adam writes in one of the book’s many memorable sentences. ‘It was kid gloves all round,’ he explains the title, ‘some of them elbow-length, in the debutante or drag-queen manner.’

The book is written with dry humour and a measured detachment, but the reader is always aware of the pain and the grief that have been the author’s frequent companions. His dad ought to be immensely proud of him.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

What I'm reading: A box of gay goodies

A BOXFUL OF IDEAS


It’s not comme il faut to review one’s own work, but my contribution to this new anthology (their sixth) from Paradise Press is only a brief piece of Flash Fiction (‘Alice Swings’ – on the ‘B’ theme of LGBT), so perhaps it’s okay if I only mention it in passing.

An anthology is like a box of chocolates: they are all perfectly edible but some are more ‘delicious’ than others. Some have ‘a soft centre’; rather more have a harder edge (nothing too ‘hard-core’).  Not every-thing here is on a gay theme (don’t be put off: most of it is), and there is poetry as well as prose. There are several poems by Mike Harth who died last year, one of the founders of both Paradise Press and its ‘parent’, the Gay Authors Workshop (which he naughtily mocks in a story called ‘Group Reading’). Mike’s warmth, his wit and his wisdom are sorely missed by those of us in GAW who came to know and cherish him.

Jeremy Kingston contributes some delicious verse (as he always does at GAW meetings) and a clever story – ‘The Twist of the Vice’ – that revisits Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw from the viewpoint of one of the children and makes the governess more villain than victim. The narrator of Les Brookes’s ‘You Farzan, Me Duane’ recalls the summer when he fell in love with an Iranian boy in his school: this resonated with me! Beth Lister, another of my GAW favourites, has a story, ‘Dog Minder’s Monday Morning’, in which an 80-year-old lesbian yearns for a younger lover/companion. In contrast to this, Alice Wickham’s bitter-toned ‘Love and Hate’ shows a lesbian relationship that fails to take off.

Psychiatrist Donald West, GAW’s eminence grise, contributes an essay called ‘Facing up to Paedophilia’ which invites us to ‘understand’ the mind-set of child-molesters. Our bishops and pastors urge Christians to hate the sin but love the sinner – something many of us find a hard pill to swallow where paedophiles are concerned. I was 68 when I met my Iranian partner, who was 35. Had I met him twenty years earlier he would have been 15 (and probably very delectable, like Farzan in the story mentioned above!), so perhaps I must accept Professor West’s injunction not to be too judgmental.

You don’t have to be gay to appreciate the myriad pleasures of A Boxful of Ideas, though it helps if you are!