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    The 12 Gays (and Lesbians) of Christmas

    By Dr. Bill Lipsky–

    This year, in addition to singing of partridges in pear trees, geese a-laying and maids a-milking, gifts apparently once given between Christmas Day and the advent of the Magi, let us also celebrate 12 glorious members of our LGBT communities born between December 25 and January 5. Happy holidays to all!

    December 25: Quentin Crisp (1908–1999)

    English writer, raconteur and gay icon

    Crisp delighted in celebrating himself, his highly individual views and eye-catching appearance, so who are we not also to rejoice in them? Possibly the most flamboyant raconteur since Oscar Wilde, he wrote numerous books, including The Naked Civil Servant, and presented his theatre-filling one-man stage show to great acclaim for more than 20 years in Europe and the U.S. “I became,” he remarked, “one of the stately homos of England.”

    December 26: Thomas Gray (1716–1771)

    English poet

     December 27: Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992)

    Actor, singer, anti-fascist

    Before Monroe, before Turner and Harlow, there was Dietrich. A “gay icon” from the beginning of her Hollywood career, she used her blessed androgyny to undermine conventional gender norms rather than to reinforce them, showing femininity and masculinity as assumed roles. During the 1930s, she was considered to be Greta Garbo’s greatest screen rival.

    Firmly anti-fascist, she helped to create a fund in the late 1930s to assist Jews and dissidents in escaping from Germany, donating her entire $450,000 salary (about $7,600,000 today) for Knight Without Armor (1937). In 1939, she renounced her German citizenship and became an American citizen. During World War II, she performed for Allied troops on three continents, receiving the Medal of Freedom in 1947.

    December 28: F. W. Murnau (1888–1931)

    German-American film director

    One of the greatest directors in motion picture history, F. W. Murnau filmed Sunrise, “a perfect example of German cinema,” at Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Hailed as “a rhapsodic, romantic work” and “the greatest film of the silent era,” it won the first (and only) “Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture” of 1927.

    Sunrise was the crowning work of a career that included Nosferatu—the first filming of Dracula (1922)—and The Last Laugh (1924), a complex drama told entirely without titles. Some claim the automobile accident that led to his death resulted from an ill-timed intimacy with his chauffeur, which distracted the young man from the road during a drive to Santa Barbara.

     December 29: Elsa Gidlow (1898–1986)

    Poet, philosopher, humanist

    Unthinkable now, the first book of openly lesbian love poetry, On A Grey Thread, was not published in the U.S. until 1923. The work of Gidlow, her career in letters began five years earlier, when she was 19, as Co-founder and Contributor to Montreal’s Les Mouches fantastiques, the earliest known LGBT publication in North American history.

    Gidlow moved to the Bay Area in 1927, where she lived for the rest of her life. Her autobiography, Elsa, I Come with My Songs, which appeared in 1986, was the first lesbian autobiography published with the author’s true name, not a pseudonym, giving a personal and detailed account of seeking, finding and creating a life with other women during an era when such information was virtually impossible to find.

    December 30: Paul Bowles (1910–1999)

    American expatriate composer, author and translator

    December 31: Orry-Kelly (1897–1964)

    Costume designer

    Born in Australia in 1897, Orry-Kelly moved to New York in 1921. There, he shared a Greenwich loft with a young vaudeville acrobat named Archie Leach and the female impersonator Charlie Spangles. Hoping to become an actor, but unable to find much work on the stage, he painted murals and backdrops for nightclubs and speakeasies, and then began designing sets and costumes for the theater.

    It was his former roommate Leach who got Orry-Kelly his big break in Hollywood. Working under the name Cary Grant, Leach helped his sometimes intimate friend to find a job at Warner Bros. Known for “utter simplicity and high fashion without theatricality,” Orry-Kelly went on to create wardrobes for such classics as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Now, Voyager and Some Like it Hot, eventually winning three Academy Awards.

    January 1: E. M. Forster (1879–1970)

    English novelist, short story writer

    Although many of E. M. Forster’s novels examined class difference and the hypocrisy it caused, he remained deeply cautious and deeply closeted in his public life. Written in 1913–14, between Howard’s End and A Passage to India, Maurice—his telling of a romance between Maurice Hall, a stockbroker, and under-gamekeeper Alec Scudder—was not published until 1971, after Forster had been dead for more than a year.

    Forster was true to his views about hypocrisy and class, but kept his private life private. He is known to have had relationships with men of different backgrounds, including a student from India whom he tutored in Latin, an Egyptian tram conductor, and English policeman Bob Buckingham, whom he met in 1930 and who became his longest-lived intimacy.

    January 2: William Haines (1900–1973)

    American film actor and interior designer

    January 3: Dorothy Arzner (1897–1979)

    American film director

    January 4: Mardsen Hartley (1877–1943)

    Modernist painter, poet and essayist

    January 5: Alvin Ailey (1931–1989)

    Dancer, choreographer and visionary

     The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater remains one of our nation’s most respected and influential organizations for the arts. The Alvin Ailey dancers will be performing in April at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, keeping their remarkable namesake’s legacy alive for current and future generations. For more information:

    Bill Lipsky, Ph.D., author of “Gay and Lesbian San Francisco” (2006), is a member of the Rainbow Honor Walk board of directors.