Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Extraordinary Life: A Queer Action Hero - Part 2

In May I wrote about the early travels of Richard Halliburton (1900-1939), one of the forgotten adventurers of the inter-war years. I left the story with the arrival of the Great Depression. Richard’s finances took a dive as the lecture circuit and book sales began to fall away. Richard decided the only thing that could save his family from plunging into poverty was … to go on another round the world trip and write another book about it.

The new adventure was to fly around the world in a biplane. There was just one problem. Richard couldn’t fly a plane. He found a pilot in the person of Moye Stephens (1906-1995), the recently elected President of the Professional Pilots Association. After considering several planes Moye chose a Stearman C-3B open dual cockpit plane which Richard bought with money from his celebrity endorsement of a coffee brand. Richard agreed to pay all expenses on the journey but he couldn’t pay Moye a salary. The deal was settled with a handshake. Fellow pilots thought Moye was mad to accept.

The plane was checked over and named The Flying Carpet. The venture began in earnest in January 1931 after the plane had been shipped across the Atlantic. During the first flight over France Richard noticed that the aileron pushrods controlling the fins on the wings were vibrating alarmingly. Landing in Paris the adventurers had to wait three weeks for a technician to come from America to tell them that the pushrods had been put back in upside down when the plane was being checked over in America.
Front cover of the dust jacket for the first edition of “The Flying Carpet”, 1932.
There was no real itinerary, just a general west to east direction. First it was to Spain and North Africa. Richard got the urge to visit the legendary desert city of Timbuktu in present day Mali some 1,700 miles south across the Sahara. There he saw first hand the slave trade that made Timbuktu famous. Mali is one of the African nations that still practices slavery despite the attempts by French colonialists to abolish it.

It was then back to North Africa to spend time with the French Foreign Legion. Then to the Middle East. The sight of the plane in the skies caused quite a stir and several members of royal families persuaded Richard to give them a short trips.

After a few weeks the adventurers arrived in India where Richard revisited the Taj Mahal (no midnight dip in the ornamental pools this time). They then took a detour over Mount Everest. It was Richard’s 32nd birthday and he couldn’t resist standing up in the cockpit to take the first aerial photograph of Everest. He almost caused the plane to stall.

The final leg was around South East Asia. On Borneo Richard and Moye met the chief of a tribe of head-hunters. They gave his a trip in the Flying Carpet and he thanked them by presenting them with 60 kilos of shrunken heads. Not daring to cause offence the adventurers accepted the gift graciously. However, the heads soon began to stink and were thrown into the sea at the earliest opportunity.

After flying through a swarm of locusts the Flying Carpet arrived in the Philippines. There the plane was crated up and put aboard ship for the voyage home. The adventurers and the plane arrived back in San Francisco in April 1932.

Richard set to his next task of writing the book of the adventure which he titled “The Flying Carpet”. Richard moved in with Paul Mooney (1904-1939), a man he had met in San Francisco before the adventure, to write his book. It was published in November 1932. It is believed that Richard and Paul became a couple shortly afterwards.

Despite spending $64,000 on the Flying Carpet adventure and being in debt the royalties from the book earned Richard $100,000 in the first year. More lecture tours and commissions for travel articles followed, during which shorter travels abroad were undertaken. One was a recreation of Hannibal’s trek over the Alps with elephants.

With his new wealth Richard bought a cliff-top lot in Laguna Beach, California, and built a residence there in 1937. Because of its precarious position on the cliff end the house was called Hangover House. Richard and Paul moved in and Richard began writing two books for children called “Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels”. It is probably from the first of these that we get the false claim that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space, as he claimed. No-one knows where he got his information.

In 1939 Richard was getting itchy feet and began to plan his next adventure – to sail across the Pacific in a Chinese junk. With an eye for publicity his plan was to sail from Hong Kong to San Francisco in time for the Golden Gate International Exposition in April 1939. He would then take passengers around the bay. As usual he would be writing articles about the voyage and preparing another book. Hundreds of people contacted him hoping to be chosen as a crew member.
The Sea Dragon in Hong Kong harbour.
The diesel-engined Chinese junk was built from scratch in Hong Kong and was named Sea Dragon, but delays and a failed trial voyage meant that they wouldn’t reach America in time for the Exposition. His crew included Paul, twelve other men and was captained by John Wenlock Welch.

The voyage began well but into the third week the Sea Dragon encountered the Pacific’s notoriously strong currents and storms. On 23rd march they sent a radio message to the liner SS President Coolidge battling the storms halfway between Japan and Midway Island. The Sea Dragon was some miles south. The liner received a cheery message, then one which said (edited) “Southerly gale. Heavy rain squalls. High sea … All well. When close may we avail ourselves of your direction finder…”

That’s the last anyone heard from the Sea Dragon. SS President Coolidge went to its last reported position and found nothing and there was no reply to their radio messages. The Coast Guard on Hawaii were alerted but they thought it was a publicity stunt and didn’t rush into a search and rescue. When it seemed clear it was not a prank the US Navy undertook a massive search of the area, but to no avail.

The disappearance of Richard Halliburton and his crew shocked America. Only two years earlier the famous aviator Amelia Earhart had disappeared and is still a story that attracts attention. Despite Richard’s equal celebrity status his disappearance gradually faded from our collective memory. Perhaps it was swallowed up with the start of World War II that same summer.

The life of Richard Halliburton has received a slow revival over the past three decades or so with several new biographies. The disappearance of the Sea Dragon is brought back to life in a book published a couple of days ago by the University of Tennessee Press called “Richard Halliburton and the Voyage of the Sea Dragon” by Gerry Max. With rare photographs and recently researched documents new life has been given to the last adventure of a forgotten gay traveller and action man Richard Halliburton.

There’s a sad postscript to this story. Just a few weeks ago the Pacific claimed another life of an openly lgbt adventurer. Paralympian Angela Madsen was making a solo row across the Pacific but was overcome in the ocean storms. I’ll write a memorial article to her, and to another brave Paralympian, Marieke Vervoort, next month.

Friday, 3 July 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 15) A Price For Art

Last time on “80 More Gays”: Japanese shogun 39) Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) introduced a festival that originated in an ancient harvest celebration, while over in colonial America the similar Thanksgiving festival was being celebrated by Puritan colonists, including 40) William Plaine (d.1646), a colonist executed for sodomy and an ancestor of 41) Vincent Price (1911-1993).

It is very rare for any white American to be only descended from one Puritan colonist of the early 17th century. 41) Vincent Price, the star of many films who became a horror icon, is no exception. Not only is he descended from 40) William Plaine and several of the other New Haven colonial families but he is also a Mayflower descendant.

This year we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims to America. I’ll write more about the Mayflower Pilgrims and some of their lgbt descendants in September. Much research into Mayflower ancestry has been done by many genealogists over the years. In some respect discovering one of your ancestors was a Mayflower passenger is as much of a bonus for American family historians as finding a descent from royalty is for some of us Brits. Some American have both. But caution must be taken when going online to look for Mayflower ancestry. A lot of research is not based on actual sources and quite often even top professional genealogists have had different opinions.

At this moment in time the only Mayflower passengers that we can prove are direct descendants of Vincent Price are James Chilton (c.1556-1620), his wife (name unknown) who died with her husband in that first winter, and their daughter Mary (1607-1679). Legend says that Mary was the first person to set foot on Plymouth Rock. She married John Winslow, the brother of Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow, later the Governor of Plymouth Colony who approved of the death sentence of William Plaine.
Vincent Price
Vincent Price was one of quite a significant group of male and female Hollywood actors who were lesbian, gay or bisexual, a fact often known to the film studios and hidden from public knowledge behind “lavender” marriages. These marriages were usually arranged by the film studios with the full knowledge of the couple that one, or even both, of them was lgb. Many lavender marriages were arranged specifically to stop rumours in the press about an actor’s sexuality.

In Vincent Price’s case his bisexuality was easier to hide with a marriage. His first two marriages were not lavender marriages, though his last to actor Coral Browne in 1974, effectively, was. This is not to suggest that there was no genuine love between them.

It was Vincent’s daughter 42) Victoria Price (b.1962), herself openly lesbian, who ended speculation on his sexuality in 2014 when her 1999 book “Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography” was reprinted. After her father’s death Victoria was asked about his sexuality. Her biography referenced these rumours without really answering them. In an interview with “Boom” magazine while promoting her reprinted book Victoria gave the following remark: “I am as close to certain as I can be that my dad had physically intimate relationships with man. I know for 100% fact that my dad was completely loving and supportive of lgbt people.”

While Vincent Price’s acting career is what made him famous another side to him is less well-known. He was an art collector and historian. At Yale University he studied art history, after which he became an art teacher for a year. Then he travelled to England to study at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

In London he became attracted to the stage and began his acting career when he returned to the USA. In 1935 he made his first stage performance playing Prince Albert, Prince Consort in “Victoria Regina”. Acting became his profession but he continued to study art and amassing a huge art collection.

His love of art inspired him to write “The Vincent Price Treasury of American Art” (1972) as well as a couple of other art books. He also gave lectures on art, and was a committee member on several art organisations. In 1947 he co-founded the Modern Institute of Art in Beverley Hills with fellow actors Edward G. Robinson and Fanny Bryce. Sadly, the venture only lasted two years. One other passion was food. Vincent wrote a series of cook books and often demonstrated his recipes on American television.

Vincent and his second wife Mary were frequent visitors to the East Los Angeles College. With his keen desire to see better access to art given to marginalised sections of the community he donated 90 works of art from his own collection to the college in 1957. This formed the basis of a teaching collection and was the start of the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) which now has collected over 9,000 works.

Victoria Price is currently a board member of the VPAM. She continues to support the museum’s aim to foster under-represented artists, often of ethnic or disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as established artist and old masters. One of the artists showcased at the VPAM was a former student of the East Los Angeles College, 43) Laura Aguilar (1949-2018). Laura took a photography course there in the early 1970s.

Laura was a photographer who was an example of the under-represented artists the VPAM championed. She was an open lesbian from a poor background, came from a Mexican-American-Irish family, was dyslexic and diabetic. Her dyslexia affected her learning abilities as a child. With her grandmother Laura would go out into the California countryside and the landscapes influenced her art.

While at the East Los Angeles College Laura was told by a teacher that she was wasting her time trying to be an artist when she couldn’t even read properly. Because of this attitude Laura transferred to the Pasadena City College. This has a more inclusive and progressive programme of teaching.

Laura’s interest in photography was sparked by her brother who taught her how to develop photographs. She became a pioneer in the genres of Latina and chicana lesbian imagery, often using herself as a nude model. Her focus was on the ordinary lives of Los Angeles lesbians. A series of portraits called “Latina Lesbians” (1986-1990) is one of her most significant works.

During her lifetime Laura’s works were exhibited in many international galleries and museums. She died from complications arising from her diabetes at the age of 58. The VPAM was the first gallery to mount a retrospective of her work the following year.

Let’s go back to the Pasadena City College where Laura studied in the 1980s. There’s several other former alumni worth mentioning. First is Fred Phelps (1929-2014), the vehemently homophobic pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Two other alumni are more welcome, and linked - George Reeves (1914-1959), who became famous as television’s Superman in the 1950s, and his co-star 44) Jack Larson (1928-2015).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We dive into superhero comics and films, and take a philosophical look at a lost continent.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Cosplay Comes Out

When I was doing the final editing and fact-checking for this article I read about the sad passing this month of Rich Thigpen, one of the co-founders of Prism Comics (see below) and a pioneer of lgbt comic conventions. This article is dedicated to his memory in appreciation for his contribution to lgbt visibility at comic conventions.
Like everyone else I was looking forward to so many events this year. One event I was particularly looking forward to was EM-Con in Nottingham.

EM-Con is one of several annual comic, gaming and fantasy genre conventions (called comic cons) in the East Midlands of England. Last year my youngest brother and I decided to cosplay. My brother has been doing it for several years but 2019 was my first time, not that I’m a stranger to dressing up. For most of the 1990s I was a medieval re-enactor, but that’s not quite the same as cosplay – the wearing of costume to portray a fictional character, usually at a convention.

There wasn’t a specific character I wanted to cosplay as. There are no role-models or superheroes that I can identify with but I’ve always loved the Time Lord costumes from “Doctor Who”, especially the big ceremonial collar, so I decided to make my own. You can see the finished full costume in all its purple fabulousness below. I was very pleased with the final result and the reception it received.
Over the past few decades lgbt appearance and inclusion in the comic, gaming and fantasy genres in general has been increasing. There have been many lgbt characters introduced since I wrote my article on lgbt superheroes in 2017.

Mainstream comic cons welcome lgbt attendees and cosplayers and many have non-discriminatory and anti-harassment regulations. There has also been an increase in openly lgbt cosplayers launching their own social media sites. Another trend in cosplay is crossplay, the portraying of a character of a different gender or ethnicity. Gender crossplay is particularly prevalent among lgbt cosplayers, with its long tradition of drag in the community and the blossoming of androgynous identities. At the present time, however, there is some debate among ethnic cosplayers over white crossplayers portraying a character of a different race, while ethnic crossplay of white characters appears to be acceptable. You’ll see examples of both types of crossplay in the video below.

One quite well-known cosplayer is Jonathan Stryker. He rose to fame some years ago by cosplaying various Disney princes. In 2006 he attended Florida Supercon where he caught the cosplay bug. Inspired by Supercon and the desire to see more open lgbt attendance at such events Jonathan founded OUT Con, Florida’s first lgbt comic con. As an openly gay man Jonathan Stryker realised “There are people who need to feel safe who might not feel comfortable going to other places”, as he told South Florida Gay News. “I wanted to create one.” As well as the multi-genre OUT Con Jonathan also created Okama Con, an lgbt convention specifically for anime, Jonathan’s main passion. I can only find record of one Okama Con being held, on 14th January 2017.

There were three OUT Cons, all held at the Miami Airport Convention Center. The first was on 14th May 2015 and attracted 500 attendees. The second was on 6th-7th May 2016, and the last was on 4th August 2017.

OUT Con was not the first lgbt comic con. Bent-Con was created in 2010 by gay comic artist Sean Holman and gay tattoo and comic artist Dave Davenport. Like Jonathan Stryker they had felt a need for a convention where lgbt comic and fantasy fans could feel welcome. Sean’s words were “Bent-Con started out of a desire of a bunch of queer geeks who were tired of going to cons and being the niche within the niche within the niche”.

The first Bent-Con was held on 5th December 2010 in a vacant store in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Over the next few years it moved to the Marriott Convention Center in Burbank. The last was held on 6th-8th November 2015.

But do not despair. Even if OUT Con and Bent-Con have gone there’s still Flame Con.

Flame Con has become the biggest lgbt comic con. It was created by Geeks Out, a charity (non-profit) founded in 2010 that supports and promotes lgbt inclusion in the genres of comic, video games and science fiction-fantasy and horror fandom. They have attended many mainstream comic cons. In 2015 they created Flame Con, the first of which was held on 13th June at the Grand Prospect Hotel, Brooklyn. It has been held ever year since then until the pandemic forced the cancellation of its 2020 event.

Geeks Out is just one of many lgbt organisations to attend mainstream comic cons. Prism Comics is a charity that supports and promotes lgbt comic artist and writers and since its formation in 2003 has been present at the biggest comic con of them all, San Diego Comic Con.

Very early on Prism Comics realised that there was no list of lgbt comics and comic artists, so they published one and called it “The Gay Agenda”. The person who led the way in its production was Andy Mangels, one of my “80 Gays” from 2018. Prism now also host many lgbt guest panels and events within San Diego’s and other big comic cons.

Finally, back to cosplay. Below is a YouTube video of Flame Con 2019. Maybe it’ll inspire you to take up cosplay, you’re never too old – I started when I was almost 59! Here’s some advice – you don’t need to have the body of a superhero to cosplay as one, that’s not the point of cosplay, and don’t worry or be disillusioned about people not knowing who you’re dressed as because some people may not be familiar with the character (there were several people at EM-Con who didn’t know I was dressed as a Time Lord, only true Doctor Who fans recognised it). Look around YouTube for other cosplay videos for inspiration. Be imaginative. Be yourself. It’s fun.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 14) Colonial Roots

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 36) Frederik Gotthold Enslin (c.1740-after 1778) , a Dutch colonist, escaped the death penalty for being gay, unlike an earlier Dutch colonial, 37) Joost Schouten (c.1600-1644), a merchant and envoy to the court of the Japanese shogun 38) Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651), father of the “Dog Shogun” 39) Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709), who introduced a festival based on an ancient harvest celebration, another version of which was Thanksgiving, created by the colonial Americans during the lifetime of 40) William Plaine (c.1595?-1646).

40) William Plaine was neither the first to be convicted or executed for what they called sodomy in the American colonies. Richard Cornish was the first to executed, but he was an English merchant and not a settler. William Plaine was the first settler to be executed for sodomy.

New Haven colony was founded in 1637. The township of Guilford, which was originally called Menunkatuck after the native tribe from whom the land was bought, was founded in 1639. Several ships from England carried Puritan colonists, farmers and their families. One ship, the “St. John”, carried three colonists who are worth mentioning – William Plaine, Francis Chatfield and John Parmalee (also referred to as Parmalin or Permewly). Francis Chatfield will become a significant figure in a future article on the coat of arms of his 9-times great-nephew, the gay Olympic swimmer Mark Chatfield.

Guilford township experienced a difficult first few decades, at least spiritually. The original Puritan pastor moved away and the settlers were left with no spiritual leader, vital for the Puritans, for a number of years. Several settler families moved away, including that of Francis Chatfield’s brother George, the Olympian’s direct ancestor, to avoid living in what they regarded as an increasingly godless township. During the events that transpired in 1646 it appears that William was probably one of these “godless” people that settlers wanted to get away from. William made it clear that he doubted the existence of God. At first, however, William Plaine seemed to be a trusted member of the town.

Unlike some of the other colonists we know nothing of William Plaine’s origins. We assume he was born in England and can definitely assume that he was an adult when he embarked on the “St. John” in 1639 because he was one of the signatories, with Francis Chatfield and John Parmalee, of the Covenant made on the voyage which founded Guilford. On arriving in Guilford William was allotted two acres of land to settle and build a home. You can actually visit the site today. The buildings have gone but the site is now occupied by Page Hardware store and the old Guilford Trust bank building to the south of Guilford green. William’s house was situated in the car park behind the old bank.
The Guildford Covenant stone placed outside Henry Whitfield House Museum in 2018 to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the signing of the covenant in 1639. William Plaine’s name is included.
William Plaine may have been married before he arrived in Guilford. His wife was called Anne (surname unknown). They had only one known child, a daughter and heir called Hannah. William was appointed inspector of chimneys to check they were constructed properly and not able to set fire to property or spread. He was well known to the people of Guilford. Just what they knew about his private life is unknown but everyone soon got to know very quickly when he was accused and tried by the town council of sodomy and sexual abuse of boys.

Court records are missing so most of what we know of William’s trial or examination comes from the journal of John Winthrop, the governor of the neighbouring Massachusetts Bay colony. He writes how the governor of New Haven colony, Theophilus Eaton, had written to seek advice on what action to take with William Plaine, who had been accused and found guilty of having sex with two men in England, and abusing boys in Guilford more than a hundred times. Governor Winthrop agreed with the law, that Plaine should hang and this is exactly what happened in or around 6th June 1646.

But that’s not the end to his story because he left a widow and daughter, and it’s what happened to them that takes us to the next of our “80 Gays”.

It was common in early colonial times for a widow like Anne Plaine to remarry in order to ensure she could keep possession of her late husband’s property. Her new husband couldn’t even sell it without her permission. In a small community like Guilford there was a relatively small number of “available” husbands, and in about 1650 Anne married the recently widowed John Parmalee, the son of the John Parmalee who had travelled with William Plaine on the “St. John”. The Parmalees were a prominent family and the marriage indicates that there was no stigma attached to Anne for her executed husband crimes. The marriage lasted until Anne’s death in 1658, leaving Hannah as her sole heir.

Again, marriage would ensure Hannah’s continued occupation of the property, and who stepped up to marry her? It was another recently widowed man, her own stepfather, John Parmalee. They married in 1659. Historians assume this was the case because John had to ask his wife’s permission to sell some of the land that she inherited, some of the Plaine property. He wouldn’t do that if Hannah wasn’t the heir to William Plaine.

People may cringe at the thought of a man marrying his stepdaughter but there were no objections and it seems not to be regarded as incest under the Puritan colonists’ laws. There was no blood link and the marriage was more of a property alliance. However, John Parmalee and Hannah Plaine had nine children. The first, John Parmalee III, was born in 1659, and the youngest in 1678.

Today there are several thousand people who are descended from John and Hannah, and thus from William Plaine. There are several famous descendants - First Lady Barbara Bush and her son President George W. Bush, and actors Ben Affleck, Christopher Reeve, Humphrey Bogart and Jodie Foster.

Descended from the eldest son, John Parmalee III, is 41) Vincent Price (1911-1993).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: Hollywood horror, a daughters’ revelation, Latina art, homophobic Baptist, and a reporter on the Daily Planet.