Thursday 29 April 2021

Oscar's Queer Awards

The covid pandemic may have disrupted film production over the past year but is hasn’t disrupted the awards season where it seems that quotas, inclusion and diversity are more important than actual talent and achievement.

It isn’t generally known, especially by self-identified lgbt spokespeople, that there have been many lgbt winners and nominees of Oscars. There were more lgbt nominees in the ten years of the 1950s (132) than there were in the 25 years from 1994 to 2019 (126). Many of these nominees may not have been lgbt publicly, but then they didn’t have social media demanding that this part of their life should be made public. Most were openly lgbt to those they worked with and knew. There has only been two awards ceremonies where there weren’t any lgbt nominees – November 1933 (there were two ceremonies that year, the first being in April) and 1935. As the ceremony last weekend was the 93rd that means that there are had been at least 91 lgbt nominations in Oscar history.

Do you remember Sam Smith looking like a complete fool by declaring in front of the world to be the first openly lgbt Oscar winner in 2015 (probably the only thing Sam will ever be remembered for)? Thankfully, there were plenty of previous lgbt Oscar winners ready to put the record straight.

Of course, there were people who were deliberately secretive about their sexuality, but fewer than you might think. It is recognised that the film studio bosses deliberately suppressed news in the media about a film star’s sexuality. To cover up any scandal the news would have caused at that time the studios arranged for that person to get married. This attitude towards sexuality in the American cinema still prevails today, despite the deceptive appearance of there being a lot of out American actors and film-makers.

There are too many lgbt nominees and winners to list here (602 in total, held by 219 individuals), but an almost accurate list is available on Wikipedia. A handful of the names it lists are not verified as being lgbt, being based purely on unsubstantiated rumour or unreliable testimony. Some names that have been included which are based on rumour have other supporting evidence which supports their identification. There are also a few omissions and wrongly categorised names.

So, here are some of the more interesting and significant facts and figures about lgbt nominees and winners of Oscars.

Category with the most lgbt nominations, and category with the most lgbt winners
Best Art Direction (replaced with Best Production Design in 2012) received 20 lgbt nominations. Between 1941 and 1970 the category was subdivided into Colour and Black and White.

Best Art Direction: Colour received 67 nominations, and Best Art Direction: Black and White received 58. In total the Best Art Direction category has received 145 lgbt nominations. Of those 145 nominations, 28 won. Best Art Direction won 4 times, Best Art Direction: Colour won 13 times, and Best Art Direction: Black and White won 11 times.

Honorary Awards
Eight lgbt people were given honorary awards, and 1 was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Number of lgbt nominations for acting

Best Actor – 35 nominations (5 wins)
Best Actress – 32 nominations (10 wins)
Best Supporting Actor – 23 nominations (4 wins)
Best Supporting Actress – 14 nominations (5 wins)

First lgbt nomination, first lgbt acting nomination, first ever female nomination, and first female to receive more than one nomination, and first female to win all nominations received in one year.

Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) received three nominations as Best Actress at the very first awards ceremony in 1929 for her roles in “Seventh Heaven”, “Street Angel” and “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”. She won all three Oscars.

First lgbt male nominations

In 1934 there were two lgbt male nominees: George Cukor (1899-1983) as Best Director for “Little Women”; and Charles Laughton (1899-1962) as Best Actor as King Henry VIII in “The Private Life of Henry VIII”.

First male lgbt winner

Charles Laughton (1899-1962) for Best Actor in 1934 (above).

First non-acting lgbt nomination

George Cukor (1899-1983), nominated as Best Director in 1934 (above).

First non-acting lgbt winner, the most nominated lgbt non-actor, the most consecutive years with a nomination, and the lgbt person with the most Oscars

Edwin B. Willis (1893-1963) won Best Art Direction (Colour) for “Blossoms in the Dust” in 1942. He received a total of 32 nominations over 27 years with a further 7 wins. He was nominated every year between 1950 and 1958.

First female transgender nomination, first transgender person to be nominated twice

Angela Morley (1924-2009), nominated for Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation or Scoring in 1975 for “The Little Prince”. She was nominated in the same category in 1978 for “The Slipper and the Rose”.

First male transgender nomination

Yance Ford (b.1972), nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 2018 for “Strong Island”.

First transgender acting nomination (pre transition)

Elliott Page (b.1987), nominated as Best Actress in 2008 for playing the lead role in “Juno”.

First lgbt actor to play a non-lgbt character of the opposite sex

Linda Hunt (b.1945), nominated at Best Actress in 1983 for playing Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously”.

First black lgbt acting nomination

Paul Winfield (1939-2004), nominated as Best Actor in 1973 for “Sounder”.

First black lgbt non-acting nomination

Lee Daniels (b.1959), nominated as Best Director in 2010 for “Precious”.

Lgbt actors with the most nominations

Katherine Hepburn (1907-2003) received 12 nominations, all for Best Actress. She won 4 times, and holds the record for the most Oscars won by any female actor.

Sir Laurence Olivier, Lord Olivier (1907-1989) received 13 nominations, though they include Best Director and Best Picture (“Hamlet”, 1949), and one honorary award. He also won 4 times.

First posthumous lgbt acting nomination

Jeanne Eagels (1890-1929), nominated in April 1930 as Best Actress for “The Letter”.

First posthumous lgbt male acting nomination, first lgbt actor to be nominated posthumously twice

James Dean (1931-1955), nominated in 1956 as Best Actor for “East of Eden”, and nominated in 1957 as Best Actor for “Giant”.

First posthumous lgbt non-acting nomination, first posthumous lgbt winner, most number of posthumous nominations

Howard Ashman (1950-1991) was nominated in 1992 as lyricist in the Best Original Song Category with three songs from “Beauty and the Beast”, “Be Our Guest”, “Belle” and the title song, which was the first posthumous win by an lgbt individual. Howard received his fourth posthumous nomination in 1993 in the same category with “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin”.

Lgbt nominee with the lowest success rate

Many people were nominated once but did not win. Several with multiple nominations also did not win. Probably the most famous of these are songwriter Cole Porter (1891-1964) and actor Montgomery Clift (1920-1966), who each received 4 nominations but did not win. The lgbt person nominated the most without a win was Howard Bristol (1902-1971), who was nominated 9 times between 1942 and 1969 in all of the three Best Art Direction categories.

Film with the most lgbt nominees, and film with the most lgbt winners

In 1952 “An American in Paris” had 6 lgbt people among its 15 nominees in 8 categories. Five of those lgbt nominees won – 2 for Best Art Direction: Colour, and 3 for Best Costume Design: Colour.

Year with the most number of lgbt nominees, and the most lgbt winners

At the 1952 ceremony a total of 16 lgbt people received 20 nominations in 9 categories. Eight of those people won in 4 of the categories, including “An American in Paris” (above).

Lgbt people with the most multiple nominations in one year

There are 7 who have been nominated 3 times in one year. They include Janet Gaynor in 1929 (also the first lgbt multiple winner in one year, see above), Edwin B. Willis in 1954 (see above), and Howard Ashman in 1992 (all posthumous, see above). The others are:

Samuel M. Comer (1893-1974) in 1964 for Best Art Decoration on 3 different films,

Jacques Demy (1921-1990) in 1966 in 3 categories for “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”,
Sir Elton John (b.1947) in 1995 for 3 songs from “The Lion King”, and
Henry Krieger (b.1945) in 2007 for 3 songs from “Dreamgirls”.

I think that’s enough statistics for now. If I get the time I’ll produce another list of interesting lgbt Oscar facts in the future, perhaps concentrating on music, design or production.


Friday 23 April 2021

Out of King Edward's Tree: Part 3

Today is St. George’s Day. St. George became the patron saint of England during the reign of King Edward III (1312-1377). Over the past two days I have listed the many lgbt descendants of King Edward, and his father, the gay King Edward II (1284-1327). See my article of two days ago for the family tree which shows which of Edward III’s grandchildren the following people descend.

List 8 – descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort (c.1379-1440) through the Nevilles
Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926), poet and suffragette (61 lines)
Hon. Hugh Lygon (1904-1936), banker (697 lines)
T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935), Lawrence of Arabia, author and adventurer (16 lines)
Pamela Schwerdt (1931-2009), horticulturalist (70 lines)
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), author (81 lines)
Edward Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1926-2015) activist and motor museum owner (320 lines)
Roden Noel (1834-1894), poet (27 lines)
Rupert Buxton (1900-1921), Oxford University student (27 lines)
George Mallory (1886-1924), mountaineer (26 lines)
Fiona Cunnigham-Reid (b.1956), documentary film-maker (281 lines)
William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister (8 lines)
John Waters (b.1946), film director (3 lines)
Glen Maxey (b.1952), American politician (3 lines)
Sir John Bramston (1832-1921), Australian politician (10 lines)
Margaret Damer Dawson (1873-1920), co-founder of women’s police force (29 lines)
Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), artist (10 lines)
Ellen Degeneres (b.1958), broadcaster and comedian (7 lines)
E. M. Forster (1879-1970), author (15 lines)
William Leonard Courtney (1850-1928); author and philosopher (12 lines)
Peter Cokes (1913-2008), actor (16 lines)
Patrick Trevor-Roper (1916-2004), eye surgeon and activist (45 lines)
Ernest Thesiger (1879-1961), actor (23 lines)
Clare Balding (b.1971), sports broadcaster (263 lines)
Cara Delevigne (b.1992), actor (66 lines)
William Beckford (1760-1844), novelist and arts patron (4 lines)
Francis Bacon (1909-1992), artist (6 lines)
Marlon Brando (1924-2004), actor (2 lines)
Randolph Scott (1898-1987), actor (2 lines)
Gore Vidal (1925-2012), author (2 lines)
Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965), activist, founder of lgbt micronation (1 line)
George Seymour, 7th Marquess of Hertford (1871-1940), party giver (141 lines)
Tony Scupham-Bilton (b.1960), historian, writer of The Queerstory Files (4 lines)
Peggy Seeger (b.1935), singer and songwriter (2 lines)
Vincent Price (1911-1993), actor and art collector (4 lines)
Victoria Price (b.1962), author and public speaker (4 lines)
Leona Holbrook (1909-1980), Professor of Physical Education (2 lines)
Frances Norma Loring (1887-1968), sculptor and artist (2 lines)
Reynell Grissell (1927-1999), classical pianist (4 lines)
Very Rev. Charles Vaughan (1816-1897), Dean of Llandaff Cathedral (4 lines)
Eustace Robb (1899-1985), television producer (8 lines)
Rt. Hon. Jeremy Thorpe (1929-2014), MP, Leader of the Liberal Party (4 lines)
Lady Eve Balfour (1899-1990), pioneer of organic farming (116 lines)
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), author (2 lines)
G. DeWolf Shaw (b.1950), human capital evaluator (2 lines)
Gerald Heard (1889-1971), historian, author and philosopher (1 line)
Hon. Eleanor Acheson (b.1947), US Assistant Attorney General (10 lines)
Sir Robert Herbert (1831-1905), Premier of Queensland (70 lines)
Mark Frankland (1934-2012), journalist and spy (14 lines)
Divine (1945-1988), actor and performer (3 lines)
Cynthia Nixon (b.1966), actor (3 lines)
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), author (3 lines)
Doris Fielding Reid (1895-1973), stockbroker (8 lines)
John Holmes III (b.1984), flower shop proprietor (8 lines)

List 9 – Descendants of Princess Constance of York (c.1374-1416)

Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829), one of the Ladies of Llangollen (2 lines)
Sir Arthur Vicars (1862-1921), herald (1 line)
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), author (1 line)
Dolly Wilde (after 1893-1941), socialite (1 line)

List 10 – Descendant of Princess Anne, Countess of Buckingham (1383-1438)

Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool (b.1954), Assistant Bishop of New York (2 lines)

Thursday 22 April 2021

Out of King Edward's Tree: Part 2

Here is the second part of the list of lgbt descendants of King Edward III, who made St. George the patron saint of England, and his father, the gay King Edward II. See yesterday’s article for the chart which shows which of Edward III’s grandchildren the following people descend. Again, the numbers after their occupation are the total known lines of descent of that person from the two Edwards.

List 4 – descendants of John and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset
James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater (1750-1811), architect (22 lines)
Rt. Rev. Percy Jocelyn (1764-1843), Bishop of Clogher (24 lines)
Julia Pell (1953-2006), civil rights advocate (1 line)
Myles Hildyard (1914-2005), landowner (18 lines)
Philip Streatfield (1879-1915), artist (48 lines)
Lady Anna Gordon (b.1988), 1st same-sex engagement announced in the Daily Telegraph (504 lines)
Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), partner of Oscar Wilde (70 lines)
Stephen Tennant (1906-1987), socialite (69 lines)
Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), author (6 lines)
Una, Lady Troubridge (1887-1963), sculptor and author (13 lines)
Judith Furse (1912-1974), actor and director (13 lines)
Rupert Barneby (1911-2000), botanical scientist (2 lines)
Olive Custance (1874-1944), poet (20 lines)
Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1593-1631), rapist (1 line)

List 5 – Descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort (1407-1445)

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), First Lady of America (1 line)
Joseph Alsop (1910-1989), journalist (1 line)
Alan Turing (1912-1954), codebreaker and mathematician (20 lines)
Miranda Ponsonby (b.1933), author, transgender (7 lines)
Robert Boothby, 1st Baron Boothby (1900-1986), politician (19 lines)
Dennis Price (1915-1973) actor (41 lines)
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), author (20 lines)
Alexander Hamilton (c.1756-1804), Founding Father of America (1 line)
Jasper Conran (b.1959), designer (16 lines)
Francilia Agar (b.1975), Olympic swimmer (50 lines)
Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), author (3 lines)
Duncan Grant (1885-1978), artist (3 lines)
Michael Pitt-Rivers (1919-2000), activist (499 lines)
Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton (1840-1870); politician (260 lines)
Prince Egon von Furstenberg (1946-2004), fashion designer (146 lines)
William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), colonial governor (48 lines)
Bram Stoker (1847-1912), author (2 lines)
Simon Fanshawe (b.1956), broadcaster (220 lines)
John Hervey, Lord Hervey (1696-1743), politician (15 lines)
Tamsin Ormond (b.1984), environmental activist and journalist (15 lines)
Norman Douglas (1868-1952), author (12 lines)
Ursula Bethell (1874-1945), poet and social worker (8 lines)
George Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), poet (16 lines)
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), composer (1 line)
Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Bt., (1912-1991), 1st transgender knight (20 lines)
Eileen Gray (1878-1976), architect (29 lines)
Francis Turville-Petre (1901-1941), archaeologist (73 lines)
Sir Edmund Backhouse, 2nd Bt. (1874-1944), oriental scholar (16 lines)
Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986), classical singer (13 lines)
Hon. Edward Adeane (1939-2015), civil servant (33 lines)
Sir Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), husband of Mary, Queen of Scots (7 lines)
King James I Stewart of Great-Britain (1566-1625) (13 lines)
Lord Ivar Mountbatten (b.1963), cousin of the Prince of Wales (26 lines)
Prince Philipp von Hessen (1896-1980), Landgrave of Hesse (13 lines)
King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia (1712-1786) (13 lines)
King Gustav III of Sweden (1746-1792) (13 lines)
King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) (13 lines)
Gavin Henderson, 2nd Baron Faringdon (1902-1977), politician (2 lines)
Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), actor, author, songwriter (1 line)
Daniel Veatch (b.1965), Olympic swimmer (1 line)

List 6 – descendants of Cardinal Henry Beaufort (c.1375-1447)

Martha Eliot (1891-1978), Assistant Director of WHO (1 line)
Charles Adams (1770-1800), lawyer (1 line)
Sally Ride (1951-2012), astronaut (4 lines)
Rosamund Grosvenor (1888-1940), socialite (8 lines)
Will Young (b.1979), singer and actor (6 lines)
Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), one of the Ladies of Llangollen (4 lines)
Violet Martin (1862-1915), author (15 lines)
Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington (1885-1972), diplomat (32 lines)
Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu (d.1762), author, traveller (15 lines)
June Millington (b.1948), musician and songwriter (1 line)

List 7 – descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort (c.1379-1440) through the Ferrers family

Prince Edmond de Polignac (1834-1901), composer (2 lines)
Montgomery Clift (1920-1966), actor (1 line)

Tomorrow I give the third and last group of lgbt descendants with royal blood.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Out of King Edward's Tree: Part 1

Today the UK is thinking about the Queen on what is her 95th birthday. It is a sad birthday, her husband having died two weeks ago. In two day’s time it is St. George’s Day. St. George is the patron saint of England, though his feast day has never been a public holiday. It was one of the Queen’s ancestors, King Edward III, who made St. George our patron saint. To celebrate the Queen’s birthday and St. George’s Day I have compiled a list of lgbt descendants of King Edward III. This also means that they are all descended from Edward’s father, the gay (though some gay historians refuse to accept this) King Edward II.

This year sees my 60th St. George’s Day and I want to celebrate, so I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence.

An ancient Greek philosopher once said “in the ancestry of every king is a slave, and in the ancestry of every slave is a king”. Mathematically, everyone must have a king, hereditary chieftain or tribal leader in their ancestry if you go back far enough.

I come from a family whose entire ancestry for the past 250 years has been working class. People only need what genealogists called a “gateway ancestor” to acquire royal blood. My gateway ancestor is Robert Appleyard whose parents were both descended from Edward III.

Today I bring the first part of my list of lgbt descendants of King Edward III. There are hundreds on my database, all of them distant cousins to each other, of course. I couldn’t justify excluding any of them from the lists. Because of this I have had to group the lists into three sections. Today is section 1, tomorrow I gives section 2, and on St. George’s Day I give section 3.

I wondered how best to chart all the descendants. There are two many names to produce anything like the lgbt Mayflower descendant charts I produced last year. In text alone the complete lines of descent cover 900 pages. Most of those listed have multiple descents from Edward III, so what I’ve done is select the shortest, senior line of descent for each lgbt descendant. I descend from Edward’s eldest son, Prince Lionel, but I also descend from two younger sons, Princes John and Thomas, through fewer generations.

The chart below shows how I’ve grouped the descendants together, primarily according to King Edward III’s grandchildren.

Here is the first section of lgbt descendants of King Edward III. They are listed according to the seniority of bloodline. After their person’s profession is the total number of lines of descent from Edward III.

List 1 – descendants of Princess Philippa, Countess of Ulster (1355-1381)
Rufus Wainwright (b.1974), singer and songwriter (1 line)
George Seymour (1924-1994), Nottinghamshire landowner (223 lines)
Anthony Blunt (1907-1983), Russian spy (4 lines)
Noel Currer-Briggs (1919-2004), codebreaker and genealogist (2 lines)
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989), composer (1 line)
Neil Patrick Harris (b.1973), actor (1 line)

List 2 – descendants of Princess Elizabeth (1363-1426) and King Henry IV (1367-1413)

Linda Hunt (b.1945), actor (4 lines)
Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), poet (92 lines)
Teddy Tinling (1910-1990), tennis player and fashion designer (4 lines)
Roger Senhouse (1899-1970), publisher and translator (5 lines)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), poet (6 lines)
Hallam Tennyson (1920-2005), television producer (6 lines)
Geoffrey Winthrop Young (1876-1958), mountaineer (6 lines)
Isabella Norcliffe (c.1785-1846), partner of Anne Lister (39 lines)
John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), poet and critic (2 lines)
Brooke Auchincloss (b.1963), photographer (5 lines)
Sir John Finch (1626-1682), British Ambassador to Turkey (2 lines)
W. H. Auden (1907-1973), writer (2 lines)
Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners (1883-1950), composer (2 lines)
James Lees-Milne (1908-1997), author and historian (1 line)

List 3 – descendants of Princess Catherine, Queen of Castille (1373-1418)

Luisa Álvarez de Toledo, Duchess of Medina Sidonia (1936-2008) (6 lines)
Louisa Abbéma (1853-1927), artist (50 lines)
Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando I de Medici (1610-1670) (13 lines)
Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone de Medici (1671-1737) (13 lines)
Rupert Everett (b.1959), actor (95 lines)
Nicholas Eden, 2nd Earl of Avon (1930-1985), government minister (122 lines)
Hughes Cuénod (1902-2010), classical singer (227 lines)
Violet Trefusis (1894-1972), author and socialite (28 lines)
Cardinal Prince Henry Stewart, Duke of York (1725-1807) (18 lines)

Tomorrow I give section 2.

Thursday 15 April 2021

What a Way To Go!

The covid pandemic has made a lot of us think about death more often, especially, as in my case, close members of your family have passed away in the last twelve months. Most of us hope for a peaceful and painless death but some are less fortunate. Some of the most horrific deaths have been caused by war, murder or natural accident. The lgbt community still suffers murderous attacks because of our genders and sexual identities.

There’ll never be an appropriate time to ignore death and it’s more ironic and unusual causes, those that are so weird, bizarre or unique that they stand out. No doubt you’ve heard of the Darwin Awards. Named after Charles Darwin these are imaginary awards given to people who, through their own mistakes, have removed themselves from the human gene pool permanently.

Below are examples of unusual causes of deaths in the lgbt community. Not all of them qualify for a Darwin Award but are no less notable. With one exception I am excluding murders and suicides that were deliberate or premeditated.

Sir Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban (1561-1626) – statesman, scientist and philosopher. Perhaps Bacon’s death is one of the most famous Darwin Awards, despite it being questioned in recent years. It was Bacon’s scientific curiosity that led to his demise. On a cold and snowy afternoon in March 1626 Bacon was riding in his carriage just outside London when he had an idea. Could snow preserve meat? So, he stopped the carriage and obtained a dead chicken for a nearby household (most people kept chickens in those days) and began stuffing and packing it with snow. I suppose he took the chicken back home with him to observe the effects, but he never got to find out if he was right. He caught a chill which soon developed into bronchitis and he died about a week later.

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) – French composer, pioneer of modern opera and military bands. Lully was Master of the King’s Music to Louis XIV of France. In those days the conductor of an orchestra didn’t wave a baton around. They kept time by tapping a staff on the floor (orchestras were quite small in those days so musicians could easily see and hear the staff tapping). This staff evolved into the big ornamental staffs that leaders of marching bands carry today. In late 1686 King Louis XIV recovered from surgery and Lully decided to celebrate by organising a performance of his “Te Deum”. During a rehearsal he stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting staff. Blood poisoning and gangrene set in and he died. This cause of death, like that of Sir Francis Bacon’s, has been questioned in recent years.

Arrhichion (d.564 BC) – Olympic champion in the sport of pankration, a mixture of boxing and wrestling in which virtually anything goes. Arrhichion was a native of the city of Phigalia. Like all ancient Greek athletes he would undoubtedly have become the boy-lover of an older athlete during his training and took a boy-lover of his own when he got older. At the 52nd Olympic Games in 572 BC he became champion for the first time. He successfully defended his title at the next games and was hot favourite to win it three times in a row. He made it to his third Olympic final in 564 BC. His opponent, whose name we don’t know, got the upper hand in the final round. He wrapped his legs around Arrhichion and put him in a strangle hold. Arrhichion managed to free one of his legs and trapped his opponent’s foot behind his knee. He twisted his leg so sharply that his opponent was in so much agony that he surrendered. Arrhichion had won his third title. Unfortunately, by this time he had lost consciousness due to the strangle hold and died. The victor’s wreath was placed on his dead body. Incidentally, the oldest known statue of an Olympic champion is believed to be of Arrhichion. It is currently on display at the museum at Olympia.

Tiberius, Emperor of Rome (42 BC- 37 AD) died twice – sort of. This is the exception to my “no premeditated murder” rule. Despite being emperor he lived his final years in semi-retirement at his villa on Capri. There he allegedly trained young boys to nibble at bits of him when he went swimming! He was an old man by this time, and as he was approaching his 78th birthday he began to show signs that he was dying. Courtiers gathered around his bed and watched him breathe his last breath. At the villa was Caligula and the courtiers wasted no time in proclaiming him the new emperor. Meanwhile, Tiberius began to revive! Reports of what happened next vary but they all agree on one thing. To ensure that Caligula was the legal emperor someone smothered Tiberius with his own bedclothes. This time they made sure he was dead.

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was an Italian satirist, playwright, blackmailer and self-proclaimed sodomite. He was once described as the Father of Pornographic Literature. His death, like that of Tiberius, has several variations but the ultimate cause is the same in all of them. One account says that he was at a party hosted by his sister when someone told a very risqué or rude joke. Pietro laughed so much that he couldn’t breathe. He fell backwards off his chair and smashed his head on the floor. Whether is was his inability to breathe or his head smashing on the floor that caused his death at least he died with a smile on his face.

The same cannot be said of Isadora Duncan (1877-1727), the bisexual American dancer and dance teacher whose death is one of the most well-known in the theatrical world. She was staying in the south of France and accepted a lift in an open-topped car. One of her friends advised her to put on a coat because the evening was a bit chilly, but Isadora refused, preferring instead to wear a long scarf. As the car sped away the flowing end of the scarf got caught in the spokes of a rear wheel and yanked Isadora from the back seat, throwing her onto the road, breaking her neck.

I’m sure none of us would like to endure these death, except perhaps Pietro Aretino’s. The world will never be short of unusual deaths as long as there is an infinite number of possibilities of passing away. I hope I “meet my maker” in the same manner as my grandfather – peacefully in bed at the age of 101.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Flower Power: A Divine Headdress

There are many flowers and plants that have influenced art and decoration. A lot of them appear because they are sacred or symbolic. Two that are both are the lotus and the papyrus.

There are several species of lotus, often confusingly referred to by the name of a different plant, the water-lily, and they feature significantly with the papyrus in the art of Egypt and Asia. The white and blue lotus have particular significance in ancient Egypt.

It is believed that the Egyptians were the first to turn floristry into a profession. They made garlands and arrangements for banquets and rituals, processions and burials. The lotus and papyrus figured prominently, thought the lotus was the most sacred flower in their religion.

The lotus features in the creation myths. A giant lotus was said to emerge from the muddy waters of the Nile before time began. From it rose the sun, Ra, creating the first day. The association with the Nile, where it grew in abundance, gave rise to the flower’s representation as a symbol of life, regeneration and fertility. If it wasn’t for the Nile ancient Egypt would not have existed. More specifically, it was the annual Nile floods that washed over the surrounding lands.

The ancient Egyptians created an annual festival to celebrate these floods. It is still a holiday today called Wafaa El-Nil. I wrote about this festival in August 2018 and explained how the floods were given their own god, Hapi.

Because ancient Egypt and the Nile were divided into Upper Egypt/Nile and Lower Egypt/Nile Hapi became a dual deity, both aspects represented as both male and female. His Upper Egypt/Nile name was Hapi-Meht and his Lower Egypt/Nile name was Hapi-Reset. In my 2018 article I also mentioned that each Hapi had a headdress made of his sacred plants. Hapi-Meht wore a headdress of lotus flowers and Hapi-Reset had a headdress of papyrus fronds. Sometimes both Hapis are depicted together, as in the picture below which I used in my article on the Nile floods. Hapi-Meht is on the right and Hapi-Reset is on the left. They are tying their symbolic plants to the Nile represented by the upright bar.

The lotus and papyrus both became major elements in Egyptian architecture. Most of the huge columns you can still see at sites like Luxor are stylised bundles of lotus and papyrus stalks. At the top of the columns are stylised lotus flowers and papyrus fronds. These types of column have their own architectural names – lotiform and papyriform. Hapi’s lotus was used more often than papyrus in wall decoration and furniture. They became the archetypal Egyptian design element.

In the late 18th century ancient Egypt became popular among the nations of Western Europe. The Napoleonic Wars had spread to Egypt and the famous Battle of the Nile in 1798 made people like Horatio Nelson national heroes. Napoleon in particular is responsible for the first Egyptian Revival in art by instructing a scientific expedition to draw and paint everything they saw, including wall painting and hieroglyphics. When the drawings arrived back in France and were published they cause a sensation. It was just the sort of decoration people were wanting to replace the tired old neo-classicism that had dominated the century.

This Egyptian Revival outlived the short Empire Style, the mixture of neo-classicism and Egyptian design created by (the probably gay couple) Charles Perrier and Pierre Fontaine. The lotus and papyrus were used in both styles. The Egyptian Revival spread across Europe and the Atlantic to America and for several decades Egyptian architecture was more popular than classical Greek and Roman.

Gradually tastes began to change again and Egpyt lost its appeal. But it re-emerged in spectacular style with the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 sparking off the Second Egyptian Revival, again in France. This time another art style was becoming popular and the revival merged seamlessly into it. That style was later called Art Deco.

The simple shapes and outlines of Art Deco seemed to be perfect for the stylised lotus and papyrus designs from ancient Egyptian. The result was some of the most iconic buildings, decorations, furniture and jewellery produced during the 1920 and 30s. It even influence film and theatre. Hapi’s sacred plants became a common source for Art Deco design. The whole Art Deco-Second Egyptian Revival can be represented perfectly in the image below of the papyrus-inspired elevator doors in the Chrysler Building in New York.

Hapi and the other Egyptian gods and deities have rarely been used as design elements but Hapi’s sacred plants, the lotus and papyrus, have become familiar to the modern world through Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Tutankhamun’s tomb.