People often think of the current Dalai Lama who travels the world as the highly visible spokesman for Buddhism as THE Dalai Lama, but in reality, he is the only most recent in a long line of leaders of the Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism. He is considered to be a tulku–a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In Tibetan, Avalokitesvara is known as Chenrezig.
In 1578 the Mongol ruler Altan Khan gave the title Dalai Lama to Sonyam Gyatso, third in a line of reborn lamas of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The title means “ocean of wisdom” and was given posthumously to Sonyam Gyatso’s two predecessors.
In 1642, the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, became the spiritual and political leader of all of Tibet, an authority passed on to his successors. Since that time the succession of Dalai Lamas has been at the center of both Tibetan Buddhismand the history of the Tibetan people.
01: Gedun Drupa, the 1st Dalai Lama
Gendun Drupa was born to a nomadic family in 1391 and died in 1474. His original name was Pema Dorjee.
He took novice monk’s vows in 1405 at Narthang monastery and received full monk’s ordination in 1411. In 1416, he became a disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa School, and eventually became Tsongkhapa’s principle disciple. Gendun Drupa is remembered as a great scholar who wrote a number of books and who founded a major monastic university, Tashi Lhunpo.
Gendun Drupa was not called “Dalai Lama” during his lifetime, because the title did not yet exist. He was identified as the first Dalai Lama several years after his death.
02: Gendun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama
Gendun Gyatso was born in 1475 and died in 1542. His father, a well-known tantric practitioner of the Nyingma school, named him Sangye Phel and gave the boy a Buddhist education.
When he was 11 years old, he was recognized as an incarnation of Gedun Drupa and enthroned at Tashi Lhunpo monastery. He received the name Gendun Gyatso at his monk’s ordination. Like Gedun Drupa, Gendun Gyatso would not receive the title Dalai Lama until after his death.
Gedun Gyatso served as abbot of Drepung and Sera monasteries. He is also remembered for reviving the great prayer festival, the Monlam Chenmo.
03: Sonam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama
Sonam Gyatso was born in 1543 to a wealthy family living near Lhasa. He died in 1588. His given name was Ranu Sicho. At the age of 3 he was recognized to be the reincarnation of Gendun Gyatso and was then taken to Drepung Monastery for training. He received novice ordination at the age of 7 and full ordination at 22.
Sonam Gyatso received the title Dalai Lama, meaning “ocean of wisdom,” from the Mongolian king Altan Khan. He was the first Dalai Lama to be called by that title in his lifetime.
Sonam Gyatso served as abbot of Drepung and Sera monsteries, and he founded Namgyal and Kumbum monasteries. He died while teaching in Mongolia.
04: Yonten Gyatso, the 4th Dalai Lama
Yonten Gyatso was born in 1589 in Mongolia. His father was a Mongol tribal chief and a grandson of Altan Khan. He died in 1617.
Although Yonten Gyatso was recognized to be the reborn Dalai Lama as a small child, his parents did not allow him to leave Mongolia until he was 12. He received his early Buddhist education from lamas visiting from Tibet.
Yonten Gyatso finally came to Tibet in 1601 and soon after took novice monk’s ordination. He received full ordination at the age of 26 and was abbot of Drepung and Sera monasteries. He died at Drepung monastery only a year later.
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso was born in 1617 to a noble family. His given name was Künga Nyingpo. He died in 1682.
Military victories by the Mongol Prince Gushi Kahn gave control of Tibet to the Dalai Lama. When Lobsang Gyatso was enthroned in 1642, he became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. He is remembered in Tibetan history as the Great Fifth.
The Great Fifth established Lhasa as the capital of Tibet and began construction of Potala Palace. He appointed a regent, or desi, to handle the administrative duties of governing. Before his death, he advised the Desi Sangya Gyatso to keep his death a secret, possibly to prevent a power struggle before a new Dalai Lama was prepared to assume authority.
Tsangyang Gyatso was born in 1683 and died in 1706. His given name was Sanje Tenzin.
In 1688, the boy was brought to Nankartse, near Lhasa, and educated by teachers appointed by the Desi Sangya Gyatso. His identity as the Dalai Lama was kept secret until 1697 when the death of the 5th Dalai Lama finally was announced and Tsangyang Gyatso was enthroned.
The 6th Dalai Lama is most remembered for renouncing monastic life and spending time in taverns and with women. He also composed songs and poems.
In 1701, a descendant of Gushi Khan named Lhasang Khan killed Sangya Gyatso. Then, in 1706 Lhasang Khan abducted Tsangyang Gyatso and declared that another lama was the real 6th Dalai Lama. Tsangyang Gyatso died in Lhasang Khan’s custody.
The lama who had replaced Tsangyang Gyatso as Sixth Dalai Lama was still enthroned in Lhasa, so Kelzang Gyatso’s identification as 7th Dalai Lama was kept secret for a time.
A tribe of Mongol warriors called the Dzungars invaded Lhasa in 1717. The Dzungars killed Lhasang Kahn and deposed the pretender 6th Dalai Lama. However, the Dzungars were lawless and destructive, and the Tibetans appealed to the Emperor Kangxi of China to help rid Tibet of the Dzungars. Chinese and Tibetan forces together expelled the Dzungars in 1720. Then they brought Kelzang Gyatso to Lhasa to be enthroned.
Kelzang Gyatso abolished the position of desi (regent) and replaced it with a council of ministers.
08: Jamphel Gyatso, the 8th Dalai Lama
Jamphel Gyatso was born in 1758, enthroned at Potala Palace in 1762 and died in 1804 at the age of 47.
During his reign, a war broke out between Tibet and the Gurkhas occupying Nepal. The war was joined by China, which blamed the war on a feud among lamas. China then attempted to change the process for choosing the rebirths of lamas by imposing the “golden urn” ceremony on Tibet. More than two centuries later, the current government of China has re-introduced the golden urn ceremony as a means of controlling the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism.
Jamphel Gyatso was the first Dalai Lama to be represented by a regent while he was a minor. He completed the building of Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace. By all accounts a quiet man devoted to meditation and study, as an adult he preferred to let others run the government of Tibet.
09: Lungtok Gyatso, the 9th Dalai Lama
Lungtok Gyatso was born in 1805 and died in 1815 before his tenth birthday from complications from a common cold. He was the only Dalai Lama to die in childhood and the first of four that would die before the age of 22. His reincarnated successor would not be recognized for eight years.
10: Tsultrim Gyatso, the 10th Dalai Lama
Tsultrim Gyatso was born in 1816 and died in 1837 at the age of 21. Though he sought to change the economic system of Tibet, he died before being able to enact any of his reforms.
11: Khendrup Gyatso, the 11th Dalai Lama
Khendrup Gyatso was born in 1838 and died in 1856 at the age of 18. Born in the same village as the 7th Dalai Lama, he was recognized as the reincarnation in 1840 and assumed full power over the government in 1855–only a year before his death.
12: Trinley Gyatso, the 12th Dalai Lama
Trinley Gyatso was born in 1857 and died in 1875. He assumed full authority over the Tibetan government at the age of 18 but died before his 20th birthday.
Thubten Gyatso was born in 1876 and died in 1933. He is remembered as the Great Thirteenth.
Thubten Gyatso assumed leadership in Tibet in 1895. At that time Czarist Russia and the British Empire had been sparring for decades over control of Asia. In the 1890s the two empires turned their attention eastward, to Tibet. A British force invaded in 1903, leaving after extracting a short-lived treaty from the Tibetans.
Tenzin Gyatso was born in 1935 and recognized as the Dalai Lama at the age of three.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 when Tenzin Gyatso was only 15. For nine years he attempted to negotiate with the Chinese to save the Tibetan people from the dictatorship of Mao Zedong. However, the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 forced the Dalai Lama into exile, and he has never been allowed to return to Tibet.
The 14th Dalai Lama established a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India. In some ways, his exile has been to the world’s benefit, since he has spent his life bringing a message of peace and compassion to the world
The 14th Dalai Lama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In 2011 he absolved himself of political power, although he is still the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Future generations are likely to regard him in the same light as the Great Fifth and the Great Thirteenth for his contributions to spreading the message of Tibetan Buddhism to the world, thereby saving the tradition.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The 14 Dalai Lamas from 1391 to Present.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/succession-of-dalai-lamas-450187.
Salvatore Mineo Jr. better known to the world as Sal Mineo, was the baby-faced American actor whose legend and cult following largely stems from his iconic role as the doomed ‘Plato’ in Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic of ‘switchblade cinema’ – ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. In the movie Mineo played a troubled high-school kid who emulates (actually as far as 50’s cinema could push that envelope) falls in love with James Dean’s character Jim Stark, although there are reports of a real-life love affair between the two off-set).This was the role for which he would earn the first of two Academy Award nominations.
In 1962 Jill Haworth Mineo’s “girlfriend” kicked open Mineo’s closet door, catching the 35-year-old actor bedding his buddy Bobby Sherman. (Yes. thatBobby Sherman.) “But he didn’t stop,” she said. “He kept going at it.” Rumors of Mineo’s sexuality circulated. He found serious work even more difficult to procure, predominantly because filmmakers saw him as an embarrassing relic of the 1950s.
On the night of February 12, 1976, actor Sal Mineo returned home following a rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. After parking his car in the carport below his West Hollywood apartment, the 37-year-old actor was stabbed in the heart by a mugger who quickly fled the scene. At first, the e police suspected that Mineo’s work for prison reform had put him in contact with a dangerous ex-con. Then their focus shifted to Mineo’s personal life. Investigators had discovered that his home was filled with pictures of nude men. But the gay pornography also failed to turn up any leads and later became the basis for a hotbed of rumors that Mineo was killed by a “trick gone wrong”
Out of the blue, Michigan authorities reported that Lionel Williams was arrested on bad check charges and was bragging to everyone that he had killed Mineo. Although he later retracted his stories at about the same time Williams’ his wife back in Los Angeles told police that he had come home the night of the murder drenched in blood. However, there was one major discrepancy in the case, Williams was black with an Afro and all of the eyewitnesses had described the perpetrator as a white man with long brown hair.
Fortunately, the police were able to unearth an old photo of Williams in which his hair had been dyed brown and processed so that it was straight and long. In addition, the medical examiner had made a cast of Mineo’s knife wound and police were able to match it to the description of the knife provided by Williams’ wife. Lionel Williams was eventually convicted and given a sentence of life in prison. He was paroled in the early 1990s but rearrested after committing other crimes. Today, Williams whereabouts is unknown or weather or not he is still even alive.
***NOTE: Because of the time period many are unsure of Mineo’s true sexuality. Some have said that Mineo was “bisexual” but because of the time period in the 1970’s many gay men used the claim of bisexuality as a stepping stone to fully “coming out”.
When Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin died on Aug. 12, queer-savvy media watchers wondered whether notices of his passing would maintain his preference for passing as straight. In recent years, celebrity obituaries have continued the long tradition of burying the departed closet cases in journalistically closed coffins, taking the not-so-secret truth with them to the grave. Singer Luther Vandross, writer Susan Sontag and film director Ismail Merchant had all been accorded the privilege of “inning” by the press, however open a secret their homosexuality had been while they were alive. Nil nisi bonum appears to be the rule for editors, and noting that a deceased famous person was gay certainly seems to count as speaking evil.
In Griffin’s case, though, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, as The New York Times, The Washington Post all noted in their obituaries that Griffin had been the target in the early 1990s of unsuccessful palimony and sexual harassment suits, both brought by men who claimed that he had done them wrong, though in different ways, and both dismissed in court. Still, these lawsuits brought out into the open, if briefly, what had long been known in Hollywood: namely, that the divorced father of one, and highly visible public escort of Eva Gabor, was also gay. In the years since his legal outing, Griffin was sometimes questioned about his sexuality and always deflected the question with a joke: “You’re asking an 80-year-old man about his sexuality right now! Get a life!” In 2005 he told The New York Times with a sly grin: “I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”
The Associated Press, however, played the game the old way, limiting its obituary to Griffin’s early marriage:
Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.”
“It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt,” he wrote in [his] autobiography. “So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain.” He never remarried.
Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral was a major Hollywood event, headlined by Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-starring Larry King, Ellen Degeneres and a host of TV old-timers such as Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman and Steve Lawrence. For some, the event was reminiscent of the funeral of another famous tycoon, an occasion that played a key role in launching the controversial journalistic-political tactic that came to be known as outing.
The New York gay magazine Outweek introduced the practice of outing closeted public figures, mostly politicians and show business celebrities who were unwilling to enlist in the cause of fighting AIDS. When prominent publisher Malcolm Forbes died in February 1990, the exposure of his homosexual side was not long in coming. The March 18, 1990, cover of OutWeek showed a photo of Malcolm Forbes on his motorcycle, with the bold headline: “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” The article, by Michelangelo Signorile, begins with Forbes’ funeral, noting the presence among the mourners of many prominent homophobes — Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, Al Neuharth — and asks whether they knew “that they were coming to pay homage to someone who embodied what they ultimately detested?”
Signorile concluded his article with a defense of outing Forbes. First, he noted that, “All too often history is distorted,” and the fact that one of the most influential men in America was gay should be recorded. Second, “it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.” The third reason Signorile gave was that this story illuminated a choice made by many gay people. In researching the story Signorile tried to interview a gay man who had been close to Forbes and his family, someone who could have shed light on “the real inner workings of Forbes’ mind.”
But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community. And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”
The Outweek story set off a firestorm of controversy about outing, with most condemning the tactic. The L.A. Times, which also editorialized against outing, named only dead people: Forbes, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, Terry Dolan, Perry Ellis and Oliver Sipple; Newsweek limited itself to Forbes (reproducing the OutWeek cover photo and headline) and Liz Smith, a “favorite target” of the outers who is quoted as saying, “I may be a gossip columnist, but I do respect the right of people not to tell me ‘everything,’ and I reserve the same right for myself.” The New York Times would refer only to “a famous businessman who had recently died.” Times spokesman William Adler took a hard line, saying that the paper would not print “hearsay” even if the subject is no longer living: “The thinking at the Times is that in most cases an individual’s private sex life should not be the subject of coverage by the newspaper unless the person wishes it to be so,” Adler said. “That perspective extends through their lifetime and even after their death.”Seventeen years later, the situation is vastly different, but celebrity closets remain dangerous journalistic territory, even when their inhabitants are deceased and therefore immune from being libeled. The day before Merv Griffin’s funeral, the Hollywood Reporter, one of the industry “bibles” read by everyone in showbiz, ran a front-page story by regular writer Ray Richmond that began, “Merv Griffin was gay.” Richmond, who had worked for Griffin in the 1980s, went on to note that “Merv’s secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America.” Richmond made clear why he thought it important to set the record, um, straight about Griffin’s sexuality:
He certainly didn’t owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he’d been forced to hide behind throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn’t OK, when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one’s career.
If you’re Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Even in the capital of entertainment — in a business where homosexuality isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon — it’s still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And Merv’s brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.
While it would seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don’t can’t really be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a boon to one’s showbiz livelihood.
Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It’s disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.
Incoming editor Elizabeth Guider opined upon reflection that the column was not “malicious, mendacious or unfair-minded” and therefore [she] was comfortable not merely with its legality but its message as well. She understood that it’s sometimes the job of columnists to shake up the status quo as well as to “spark more discussion and deal with different viewpoints. That’s what free speech is about.”
Reuters, however, which had run the story when THR first posted it, took it down and did not put it back. Reuters explained: “This was a story from The Hollywood Reporter that ran as part of a Reuters news feed. We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed, as it did not meet our standards for news.” Officials of the news service did not explain, however, why the article seemed to meet their standards when they originally ran it (Yahoo News, which picked up the Reuters story, kept it up even after Reuters took it down).
So, how far have we come in the years between Malcolm Forbes’ and Merv Griffin’s funerals? Quite a way, to be sure, but at least for many power-wielders, things are much the same. Hollywood, like its East Coast counterpart in image manipulation, Washington, D.C., is endlessly engaged in the selling of constructed personae on the mainstream media’s pages and screens. If, as Churchill said, in wartime truth has a bodyguard of lies, then Hollywood’s image factory is always at war. Its defensive strategy relies heavily on a fifth column within the ranks of the press: gossip writers. The progeny of Louella Parsons and heirs of Hedda Hopper follow in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors, “two vain and ignorant [columnists who] tyrannized Hollywood” in the 1940s, as they were characterized by historian Otto Freidrich. Early in the 20th century the component parts of the image-manufacturing complex were firmly in place: On the one side studio publicists, publicity agents and public relations flacks, and on the other side an array of media writers ranging from freelance stringers to writers working for supermarket tabloids and magazines, whose contemporary counterparts work for mainstream personality gossip magazines like People and US, television programs like Entertainment Tonight, syndicated gossip columnists that reach millions of readers through their local newspapers, and the latest venue, commercial and amateur websites. But despite the occasional adversarial pretense, these groups really collude in providing the sort of gossip they believe the public wants to know. Gossip may not have the journalistic respectability of “hard” news, but it is an increasingly visible feature of the media landscape.
It may be a commonplace of journalism courses that the ultimate standard for news media is honesty — never knowingly to report something that is untrue, even if the “whole” truth may not be reportable for a variety of reasons (such as protecting one’s sources). But when it comes to celebrity gossip, “The standards are different,” said Jerry Nachman, then editor of the New York Post. “That’s why I always say gossip pages should come with little warning labels: The rules of regular journalism were not followed in reporting these stories.”In the case of homosexuality, we begin with a topic that already puts a strain on the rules of journalism. Former New York Times columnist Roger Wilkins, the first black writer appointed to the paper’s editorial board, said that during his two years as the urban affairs columnist in the late 1970s, only three of his columns were killed — and two of them were on gay topics. So, it should surprise no one that one of the most common departures from the rules of regular journalism is the collusion of gossip writers, and other, more “respectable” journalists, in maintaining the security of celebrity closets.
During the outing furor of the early 1990s, gay journalist Randy Shilts, while not supporting outing, did describe the system clearly:
Hundreds of publicity agents in Hollywood and New York make their living by planting items in entertainment columns about whom celebrities are dating. Many of these items are patently false and intended only to cover up the celebrity’s homosexuality. Many newspaper writers and editors know this and cheerfully participate in the deception because the bits help fill their columns. Editors who would never reveal that a public figure was gay have no problem with routinely saying that same person is straight.
“Celebrity publications are lied to up, down and sideways,” said a longtime editor at Ladies Home Journal and US, but this is highly disingenuous and ignores the fact that celebrity writers and publications are willing participants in a process that might be called inning. The gossip writers, many of them lesbian or gay, who speculated about when Malcolm Forbes would marry Elizabeth Taylor, or when Merv Griffin would marry Eva Gabor, knew what they were doing.
When singer Luther Vandross died in 2005, the media obituaries politely ignored the widespread speculation that he was gay. Using familiar inning code in their Vandross obit, the AP reported that, “the lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn’t what he wanted.” As blogger Pam Spaulding put it:
The real problem is that the news media, which has no problem recounting the endless het romances of stars (real or alleged), is squeamish about even asking a star whether or not they are gay — how is this journalism? In Vandross’s situation (as well as in the posthumous media de-gaying cases of Susan Sontag and Ismail Merchant), the coverage bends over backwards, straining any sense of credibility, to avoid any fact-finding about the subject in question that might reveal they were gay, even if the person was openly gay in their social circles, but not to their fan base. Why is there a need to preserve a straight fantasy in death?
In the end, of course, the issue is not whether Merv Griffin’s secret would be buried with him. In the age of Wikipedia, it’s a given that anyone interested enough to Google Merv would quickly get the gist of the story, if not the gory details, or even the less savory details, such as those recounted by Michelangelo Signorile in his 1993 book, “Queer in America,” in which an unnamed Hollywood “Mogul” is described as firing men from his company for being openly gay. The real point of the episode is the enduring power of the Hollywood closet that held even a billionaire locked in its embrace, paying homage to the presumed prejudices of the public.
The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.
“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”
I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.
This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.
Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.
Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.
The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.
“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.
Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.
I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.
In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.
In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.
Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.
I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.
In the 1960s, it was almost unheard-of to find an out Queer person on television. Those that held a Queer identity were often forced into a ‘celluloid closet’ and made to keep their identities silent and hidden from public consumption. This was the case of Nancy Kulp, a closeted lesbian who is most remembered for her appearance as Miss Jane Hathaway in almost all of the 274 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, a television series airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Kulp would eventually come out, using her own terms, in a 1989 interview.
Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 28th, 1921 to Marjorie and Robert Kulp; the family would later move to Dade County, Florida. The only daughter of a lawyer and schoolteacher, Nancy was a bookish child from an early age and dreamed of becoming a journalist. Nancy would take the first step toward her goal when she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1943. During her years at FSU, Kulp worked as a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics, working on celebrity profiles.
Though she planned on continuing her education and obtaining her master’s degree, Nancy joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 to aid the US Navy during World War Two. While it was her patriotism and desire to work in an “all-female” atmosphere that led to her enlistment, Nancy determined that it was not her destiny to hold a career in the armed forces and left in 1945 after reaching the rank of junior-grade lieutenant. After leaving WAVES, Kulp took a position in Miami as a publicity director for a local radio station in 1946.
At the age of thirty, Nancy Kulp exchanged vows in an April Fool’s Day wedding celebration to Charles Dacus on April 1, 1951. While the marriage was short-lived, both parties parted on good terms and the relationship had a long-lasting impact on Nancy Kulp’s life. Nancy said that it was Charles Dacus who encouraged Kulp to leave her career as a publicist to achieve a career in acting (though she also later said that this inspiration came from director George Cukor). Following this encouragement, Nancy made her way to Hollywood where she took a position as a film publicist while she waited for her big break.
This break would come only three weeks later when she was discovered by A-list, gay, director George Cukor. Later that year, Nancy Kulp would make her big screen debut in Cukor’s 1951 film, The Model and the Marriage Broker. This role was larger than most others she would hold in movies though it was mostly silent and demeaning as she took on the role of a young woman desperately seeking matrimony from a marriage broker. This role was Kulp’s first foray into the sort of character she would often be type-cast to play- the spinster.
In 1954, Nancy would be cast in another Cukor film, the Judy Garland- led A Star is Born, though the scene in which she appeared would later be cut without the director’s knowledge or consent. Kulp would make several smaller appearances in many successful films such as Sabrina (the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Strange Bedfellows (1965), and The Parent Trap (1961), where Kulp played the butch troop leader.
While Nancy appeared in movies, most of her acting work was done for the small screen. She made several appearances, largely comedic, on various television shows. Her first recurring television role was as a bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). The writer for The Bob Cummings Show, Paul Henning, would go on to write for The Beverly Hillbillies, and created a role specifically for Kulp. Nancy would become known across the country as Miss Jane Hathaway, a smart and confident secretary that worked for a bank. Miss Jane, as most of the characters called her, was also a character that played into Kulp’s type-casted role as a spinster. Kulp received an Emmy Award nomination in 1967 for her performance on the show.
After the final episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Kulp was given a regular role on the Brian Keith Show (1973-1974) and made appearances on Sanford and Son (1972-1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), and Fantasy Island (1978-1984). Kulp also appeared on stage at summer stock and dinner theaters before eventually landing a role in Paul Osborn’s 1982 production of Mornings at Seven.
In 1984, the patriotic Nancy Kulp, who had long been interested in politics, decided to run for Congress in her district in central Pennsylvania, having settled in Port Royal. She ran as a Democrat against the Ninth District’s incumbent Republican representative, Bud Shuster. While she received an endorsement from friend and fellow showbiz personality Ed Asner, her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen recorded a radio advertisement claiming that Kulp was “too liberal for Pennsylvania.” Kulp was enraged by Ebsen, a California resident, getting involved in her campaign, stating that she “was speechless at such a betrayal, and something so needless and cruel.”
Nancy Kulp would go on to be defeated by Shuster and would spend the next year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, teaching film and drama. She would later return to California to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and take an active role in non-profits including the Humane Society of the Desert, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Desert Theater League.
In a 1989 interview with author Boze Hadleigh for the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, Kulp responded to Hadleigh’s “Big Question” (the question of her sexuality which she renamed the “Fatal Question”) Nancy remarked in her own words:
“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she told Hadleigh. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort–I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.”
Never in the course of the interview did she refer to herself as a lesbian.
Nancy Kulp would die of cancer only two years later, on February 3, 1991, at her home in Palm desert, California. While she never actively owned a lesbian label, Nancy Kulp was hailed as being a lesbian ground-breaker in the field of acting for having portrayed her identity (though a secret) in her work.
Former “Beverly Hillbilly” Says She Didn’t Play The Political “Game″
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nancy Kulp of ″The Beverly Hillbillies″ fame doesn’t blame fellow Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen for her election defeat last fall – but says he should have stayed out of the congressional race.
Ebsen, who starred with Ms. Kulp on the long-running television program in the 1960s and early 1970s, recorded a radio commercial for her opponent, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. In the spot, aired several weeks before the election, Ebsen said, ″Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.″
Ms. Kulp still bristles when she thinks about the ad. ″How dare he 3/8 It wasn’t his business,″ she said.
But she said there were other reasons for her defeat, notably her lack of political savvy, a shortage of campaign dollars and the popularity of President Reagan in Shuster’s sprawling rural Pennsylvania district.
“I didn’t play the game, I guess,″ Ms. Kulp, 63, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. She left her restored, three-story farmhouse in Port Royal, Pa., after the election and drove to California to visit friends.
While she raised $73,143 during 1984, Shuster, who was seeking his seventh House term, reported contributions of $269,597, according to campaign finance reports. Ms. Kulp reported gifts of $29,471 from political action committees, Shuster $138,817.
After years of involvement in local party politics and with the Screen Actors Guild, Ms. Kulp said seeking office was satisfying because ″you finally get to put your convictions on the line. It was one of the highlights of my life.″
But the experience left her with a helpless feeling that there was an image barrier between her and the voters that she could not surmount.
“You’re turned off by the distortions,″ she said. ″My feeling is a candidate is elected because they are perceived to be something. Ronald Reagan never talked issues; he waved the flag and the people loved it.
“I was perceived to be an ultra-liberal. If that is their perception – even if they like me – then I can’t win.″
The experience, she said, has left her ″ambivalent″ about the elective process and doubtful that she will seek public office again.
A central Pennsylvania native born in Harrisburg, Ms. Kulp began her acting career in 1952. She appeared in such films as ″Three Faces of Eve″ and ″The Parent Trap,″ and was featured on ″The Bob Cummings Show″ on television before the ″Beverly Hillbillies″ premiered in 1961.
On the ″Beverly Hillbillies,″ she played the secretary of a banker managing the account of a millionaire hillbilly, played by Ebsen. She and Ebsen used to talk politics on the set; they rarely agreed about issues, she said.
Ms. Kulp said she now is thinking about returning to the East Coast, possibly to teach. Juniata, a small liberal arts college 120 miles east of Pittsburgh, has expressed interest in her, perhaps for an ″artist-in-re sidence″ program, said college spokesman Robert Howden.
Who the F Is … Actress and Politician Nancy Kulp?
Who she was:A well-regarded character actress who eventually ran for public office and came out — rather obliquely.
What she accomplished:Nancy Kulp (1921-1991) endeared herself to baby boomers with her role on a silly but successful TV sitcom,The Beverly Hillbillies.From 1962 to 1971, she played the prim, efficient Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to banker Milburn Drysdale. She and Drysdale were managing the millions of the Clampett family, a backwoods clan who had relocated from Tennessee to Beverly Hills after striking oil. The comedy arose from the contrast between the beyond-unsophisticated Clampetts — who made moonshine, kept “critters,” and called their swimming pool “the cement pond” — and the upscale Southern Californians who surrounded them. Hathaway, always called “Miss Jane” by the Clampetts and their kin, was unaccountably attracted to the dim-witted Jethro Bodine, nephew of patriarch Jed Clampett. Critics had no love for the show, but viewers found it hilarious, and it had an extended life in syndication.
Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Kulp studied journalism in college, then served in the WAVES during World War II. After the war she worked as a publicist for radio and TV stations in Florida, then came to Hollywood in the 1950s with an eye to continuing in publicity. Someone encouraged her to try acting — some accounts say it was her then-husband, Charles Dacus, whom she refused to discuss in later years; others say it was esteemed director George Cukor. At any rate, she quickly won a small role in a Cukor film,The Model and the Marriage Broker,starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter. It was one of the great filmmaker’s lesser efforts, but it launched her career. She played supporting parts, often uncredited, in some noteworthy movies —Shane, Sabrina,the Judy Garland version ofA Star Is Born,also directed by Cukor — and some now-forgotten ones. She also worked in TV anthology series and in guest-starring roles. BeforeHillbillies,she was a regular onThe Bob Cummings Show,playing a spinsterly bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone. (Bird-watching was also one of Miss Jane’s hobbies.)
AfterThe Beverly Hillbilliesended, she continued to guest-star on various TV series; she had a recurring role onSanford and Sonfor a time, and like many aging actors she appeared onThe Love BoatandFantasy Island.She also performed on Broadway inMorning’s at Sevenin the early 1980s. But she had a passion for politics, dating back to Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in 1952, and in 1984 she returned to central Pennsylvania to run for Congress. She was an underdog as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district represented by a popular incumbent. She got support from showbiz friend Ed Asner, but herHillbilliescostar Buddy Ebsen, who had played Jed, did a commercial in which he called her “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. It caused a rift between them that lasted for years, although they reportedly eventually made up. She lost the election to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. Later, she taught acting at a Pennsylvania college and made some stage appearances, including one as the Nurse inRomeo and Julietat the 1987 Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta, then retired to the California desert, where she kept busy with volunteer work. Among other things, she served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
In 1989 she addressed her sexual orientation — to a degree — in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, published in his bookHollywood Lesbians.“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort — I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” Miss Jane would have appreciated the imagery. She also expressed admiration for gay congressman Barney Frank, and when Hadleigh asked if she would have come out in Congress, she said, “Not voluntarily. If I were outed, then I would not deny it.” Hadleigh waited to publish the book until 1994, when all his subjects were dead. Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif.
Choice quotes:“If one is past 50 or 60, it’s almost like saying that most of your life you’ve been too embarrassed to admit it or to speak up.” — to Boze Hadleigh, on the possibility of coming out
“I think I’ve been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there’s always someone who screams, ‘Where’s Jethro?’” — toPeoplemagazine, during her congressional campaign
10 times Miss Jane Hathaway let loose and ditched her pressed suit on The Beverly Hillbillies
Take a tour of Nancy Kulp’s silliest costumes.
At its heart, The Beverly Hillbillies was about breaking out of your comfort zone, and it wasn’t just the Clampetts experiencing the growing pains. Fans know that Miss Jane Hathaway, the snooty bank secretary who keeps an eye on the Clampetts, had as much to learn from the hillbillies about having fun as they did from her about fitting in with fine society.
We first meet Jane Hathaway in the bank, dilligently taking notes for Mr. Drysdale, her boss, the insanely wealthy bank manager. She’s wearing her signature pressed suit, a drab number we’d see her sport throughout most of the initial seasons. But it wouldn’t take the writers, costumers and hillbillies long to wrestle Miss Jane out of those stuffy suits and neckerchiefs just to stuff her into funnier outfits that drew extra laughs precisely because she’d been set up as such a straight character. It was one of many ways the show had fun with its audience.
Below, we’ve gone back through our favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies to offer up this tour of Miss Jane Hathaway’s most dazzling and outrageous outfits over nine seasons. Played brilliantly by Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane remains one of the show’s most memorable characters, and here’s a parade of standout moments that show us how her wardrobe helped cement her legacy.
1.Miss Jane Hathaway the Artist
It only took seven episodes before we saw Nancy Kulp slip into something sillier, this artist look that we consider her character’s first masterpiece in transformation.
2.Is that Nancy Kulp or Groucho Marx?
In the later seasons, the volume got turned up on Nancy Kulp’s costumes, and this was perhaps the height of that hilarity.
3.A hillbilly before the first season ends.
By the end of the first season, we got our first look at Nancy Kulp in hillbilly garb, and even doing a dance with the whole Clampett family! Talk about letting loose! This primed us to expect the unexpected from the typically kempt Miss Jane.
4.Remember when Miss Jane posed as Uncle Sam?
The color episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies do not disappoint when it comes to costumes, especially this red-white-and-blue suit arguably louder than any other suit she donned the whole series.
5.Miss Jane, the pageant queen.
There were many plots that involved Elly and Jane in competition for a suitor’s attention, but this beauty contest in the third season was the first time they turned that trope into a swimsuit competition!
6.Don’t think Miss Jane’s beneath a denim suit!
Need proof that Miss Jane Hathaway is a trendsetter? Check out this denim suit she donned at the very start of the ’70s. It was her idea of beach attire, and the bucket hat just perfects the look, don’t you think?
There were plenty of times, as we’ll get into soon, when Nancy Kulp showed up looking stunning on The Beverly Hillbillies, but we get flashes of Carol Burnett and Friends when we saw this particular evening attire and wacky updo!
8.Miss Jane’s very first evening look.
Let’s take a moment to just genuinely appreciate how Nancy Kulp completely owned silk, pearls and simplistic elegance. Bask in the very first time we saw her in a seriously stunning evening look from the first season.
9.That’s not to say she didn’t also know how to overdo it…
Between the wig, costume jewelry and dangly everything, Miss Jane almost looks as out of sorts in this outfit as Elly May did in an evening gown!
10.Proper, even in pajamas.
Last look is all the proof you need that Miss Jane even prefers to sleep in a suit, donning these neat blue pajamas in contrast to Granny’s gowns, but that changes soon when the writers get her character stuck in a sleeping bag that Granny’s trying to free her from here. It’s just one more example of all the physical humor that came just from shaking up Jane Hathaway’s wardrobe!
Pierre Loutrel, also known as Pierrot le Fou, was a petty man who used his connections with the Third Reich to continue his hateful activities during WWII in France. Raised in a peasant family, Loutrel turned to trouble at a young age and escalated into one of the most notorious individuals in France’s history. He was the country’s first “Public Enemy No. 1,” and his acts are still considered some of the worst in the country’s modern history.
He joined the Gestapo, but even the Gestapo found him to be too much to handle. Drunk, brutal, and ruthless, Loutrel robbed and slayed people without regard for anyone or anything in his path. After WWII, he didn’t skip a beat and continued on with his crooked life, a crooked life that ended up lasting well after his death.
He Served In The French Military In Africa But Only To Get Out Of Prison
Pierre Loutrel was born in 1916 in Sarthe, France. As a child, he moved to Marseille, where he was jailed as a teenager. He was only released when he joined the Bat’ d’Af in Africa, a penal battalion in Algeria. He served his “tour in hell,” as it was known, and went to Paris upon release.
He Made Connections In Prison That Led To His Career With Hitler’s Regime
Loutrel met Henri Chamberlain, also known as Henri LaFont, in 1940 when he was in prison in the southwestern France. LaFont was a life-long unlawful person and led a prison escape during the chaos of the Third Reich’s invasion. One of the other escapees was a Swedish man named Max Stocklin who went on to introduce LaFont to members of German military intelligence.
LaFont talked his way into working with the Germans, pulling off missions they wouldn’t be able to do. Lafont enlisted the help of Pierre Bonny, a disgraced former French police officer, in 1941. The gang spent most of its time working to acquire goods on the forbidden market for Germany, but in 1943, they shifted focus to hunting down and killing enemies of the Germans.
The LaFont — Bonny’s gang — was also known as La Carlingue and recruited other unlawfuls into working as collaborators. One of them was Loutrel.
He Was A Member Of The French Gestapo Until The German Gestapo Dissociated From Him For Committing So Many Vile Acts
When Loutrel joined the French Gestapo, or La Carlingue, he used the position to his advantage. From 1941 to 1945, Loutrel and his buddies spent much of their time at Parisian red light districts and getting into fights, in addition to drinking and killing for the Third Reich. The La Carlinquen headquarters was located at 93 rue Lauriston, and was where they tortured suspected enemies of Germany: pulling their nails and teeth, waterboarding them, and burning them, too.
The number of murders and summary executions Loutrel and his commrades committed raised eyebrows within the German Gestapo. Even they thought he was out of control. Loutrel was supposedly responsible for slaying 80 Resistance fighters all on his own.
He Joined The Resistance Toward The End Of The War And Slayed A German To Prove To The French He was With Them
Loutrel made the choice to switch sides to the French Resistance in 1944. LaFont and Bonny, for example, were arrested in December 1944 and executed by firing squad for collaboration and war atrocities after a brief trial. Loutrel, on the other hand, was able to demonstrate his devotion to the French cause by claiming he was protecting the Resistance when he shot a German acquaintance name Degatz, who identified him as a member of the Gestapo.
He Once Went Off With French Actress Martine Carol, Then Apologized By Sending Her Roses
French actress Martine Carol found success first on the stage and later on film. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she appeared in numerous films and was considered the first “femme fatal.”
She was once abscanded with by Loutrel, although the whole event was incredibly brief. Loutrel sent roses the next day to apologize to Carol. Carol had a personal life plagued by bad marriages and drug and alcohol abuse, and she died in 1967.
He Was A Member Of Gang Des Tractions Avant, Named For The Type Of Cars They Drove During Their Heists
In his post-WWII thievery, Loutrel ran the Gang Des Tractions Avant, an organized unlawful syndicate that robbed banks and committed other various illegal acts in Paris. Made up of form French Gestapo, the members used the same car the Gestapo preferred to conduct their raids, the Citroën Traction Avant.
The Citroën Traction Avant, developed in the 1930s in France, had front-wheel drive, was quick and easy to drive, and was reliable so it was a smart choice. The car itself, however, was expensive to produce and bankrupted the Citroën company, which was then acquired by Michelin.
He Was France’s First Enemy No. 1
Loutrel was so well known and his actions were so prolific that newspapers took to calling him Pierrot le Fou (“Crazy Pete”) during his mid-1940s spree. With pressure on them to capture Loutrel, French police escalated their efforts to track him down. His antics earned Loutrel the title of “public enemy No. 1,” the first ever in France.
The name Pierrot le Fou was later given to French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 movie about a man, Pierrot, on the run with a girl fleeing hitmen.
He Escaped 350 Policemen On One Occasion In 1946
As the police stepped up efforts to stop Loutrel and his criminal gang, they gathered 350 officers around a cafe where the group was rumored to be meeting. The cops were all there but the unlawfuls were not. A local boy told the police he knew where Loutrel and his gang were, so all 350 police followed to boy to a local inn. The police found some gang members at the inn but not the ones they were looking for. Once again, Loutrel had evaded their efforts.
He Died After Shooting Himself In The Bladder While Robbing A Store
Loutrel managed to alienate the other members of the Gang des Traction Avant after about a year and a half. He didn’t give up thievary, however, and tried to rob a jewelry store in Paris in 1946. He was on his own, failed to get any money or jewels out of the deal, and as he tried to escape, he shot himself in the bladder while storing his gun. He suffered for five days until he finally died of his wound.
He Was Buried By His Friends In 1946 And His Body Wasn’t Found Until 1949
Loutrel was secretly buried by two of his associates, Georges Bouseseiche and Jo Attia, after his death. Both men had been a members of La Carlingue but Attia had a falling out with LaFont in 1943 and was sent to Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria. All three men participated in the Gang des Tractions Avant activities after WWII.
Until The Police Had His Corpse, They Blamed Him For Unsolved Mysteries
Because the police didn’t know Loutrel was dead, they continued to think he was committing unlawful acts and leading the Gang des Tractions Avant. Numerous robberies were credited to Loutrel until his body was discovered in 1949. To identify Loutrel, police circulated photos of Loutrel’s skull placed over pictures of him in life.
.H. Holmes, also known as Henry Howard Holmes, was born Hermann Webster Mudgett in 1861. He changed his name after graduating from high school and embarking on a medical career that provided him with the skills needed to conduct his twisted experiments and gruesome acts.
What H.H. Holmes did to his victims lives on in infamy, as he is credited with being one of the first serial slayers in America. Holmes built his murder castle – named for its specific purpose of providing him with a place to slay his targets – in Chicago, and opened its doors to tourists visiting the nearby World’s Fair in 1893. Some, if not all, of those tourists never made it home from the White City. What did the Devil in the White City do to them?
Holmes was detained by police in 1894 for insurance fraud, although the charges against him quickly expanded to include mass slaying. He received a capital sentence, and was hanged in May 1896. It’s believed that he took hundreds of lives, although he only confessed to ending 27. These H.H. Holmes facts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
He Built a Hotel-Turned-Murder Castle
Holmes used the money that he received from committing insurance fraud to construct his “murder castle” in Chicago. It was technically a three-story hotel, complete with a uniquely constructed second and third floor. There were gas chambers, trap doors, hidden rooms, disorienting maze-like hallways, chutes leading down into the basement (perfect for dumping cadavers), and other horrific features. In some rooms, blowtorches would set people on fire, while another was dubbed “the hanging room.” He also had each floor set up so that if someone moved around on it, an alarm system would sound.
The structure was technically a hotel, but it quickly became used as a machine for ending lives.
He Made His Fiancée Vanish Without A Trace
Holmes met Minnie Williams while out of town on a business trip. Williams was a teacher in Texas, and she fell for him very fast. They entered into a relationship, and she moved to Chicago to be with him. Her sister Annie joined them, too. Holmes proposed to Minnie, and suggested that she give him ownership of her property in Fort Worth, Texas.
After the transfer went through, she disappeared without a trace. Only some of her belongings, including a distinctive gold chain, were ever found.
He Suffocated His Fiancée’s Sister In A Hotel Bank Vault
Annie Williams was the sister of his wealthy fiancée Minnie. Unlike Minnie, who vanished, Annie’s remains were later recovered from Holmes’s creepy hotel. His hotel had been designed with a bank vault, which he used to keep records, store valuables – and commit heinous acts.
He asked Annie to go into the vault and retrieve some files for him, and then he swung the door shut, sealing her inside. She perished of suffocation after slowly using up all of the oxygen in the vault. Investigators found scratches from her fingernails, showing that she had tried to claw her way out.
He Gassed A Friend And Set Him On Fire, Then Took His Children
The demise of Benjamin Pitezel was a tricky one, since he was one of Holmes’s co-conspirators, as well as one of his targets. He and Holmes arranged for Pitezel to fake his own passing so that Holmes could collect his life insurance money. Some of that money would then go to Pitezel himself.
However, the plan went awry when Holmes actually ended Pitezel. Holmes then ran off with several of Pitezel’s children.
He Took The Lives Of Three Of Pitezel’s Children
Holmes ended the Pitezel children’s father, Benjamin, in order to collect on his life insurance policy.
He then ran off with three of Pitezel’s children – Alice, Nellie, and Howard – and took them to Toronto, where he soon took their lives, as well.
He Asphyxiated His Victims With Gas Or Left Them To Perish In A Sealed Room
Holmes’s hotel was filled with all kinds of treacherous spaces. The rooms had well-sealed windows and doors that made it easy for Holmes to turn them into gas chambers. All that he had to do was lock the door and turn on the gas jets that he had built into the space.
There was also a room that had no windows or doors. The only access to it was via a trapdoor in the ceiling. Holmes would drop a person down there, seal up the trapdoor, and let them perish of thirst and starvation.
He Sold His Targets’ Organs And Bones To Medical Schools
After Holmes ended some of his targets, they wound up in his basement laboratory, where they were dissected and then sold to medical schools.
He sold their organs, their bones, and in some cases, their fully articulated skeletons. This made it tough to determine exactly how many lives he took.
He Had A Secret Hanging Chamber
One of the most disturbing rooms in the hotel was the hanging room.
Here, Holmes would end his targets by hanging them from the neck.
He Forced His Mistress To Overdose On Chloroform, Then Ended Her Daughter
Julia Smythe was one of Holmes’s mistresses. Smythe, one of his pharmacy employees, was married when the affair began. Her husband found out and ran off, leaving her and their daughter Pearl in Holmes’s clutches.
Smythe and her daughter eventually disappeared, with Holmes claiming that Smythe perished from a botched abortion attempt.
He Burned Some People Alive With Blowtorches Hidden In The Walls
During the World’s Fair in Chicago, Holmes offered rooms to out-of-town visitors. They paid to stay in his hotel, only to end up never leaving the city again.
Some rooms had blowtorches built into them. All Holmes had to do was pull a switch and the person in that space would burn alive.
He Made The Widow Who Owned His Building Disappear
H.H. Holmes began his life of villainy while still in medical school. He took out life insurance policies on the school cadavers, then mutilated them to look as though they had perished in a tragic accident. He would then collect the policy money.
While this helped him cover his expenses, he had to get a job after graduating and receiving his medical license. He started out working as a pharmacist in Chicago. The owner of the drugstore perished, and Holmes offered to buy the entire store from the owner’s widow. She agreed, and then vanished after the paperwork was signed and Holmes officially took possession of the store. She was never to be heard from again, although Holmes claimed she moved to California. It is believed that she was one of his first targets.
The Floor Plan Was Designed Just To Disorient And Trap Guests
Even the hallways and doors of the Murder Castle were designed to guide H. H. Holmes’s victims to their deaths. Some rooms had multiple doors, while others had none at all. With so many ways to get from one side of the hotel to another, only someone familiar with the design would really know the best way to get around quickly.
The south end of the hotel’s second floor, on the other hand, was a claustrophobic mess of narrow, doorless hallways set at odd angles. Holmes used this carefully planned layout to mislead, confuse, and ambush his guests, who never stood a chance of finding the right way out again.
His Perverse Interests Started With Childhood Bullying
Holmes’s father abused Holmes, who was unusually bright. Holmes was also often picked on by his classmates. One day, a group of schoolmates locked him in a doctor’s office with a human skeleton.
At first, Holmes was scared, but as he stood there, he found himself overcome with morbid fascination. Soon after, he became obsessed with lifeless bodies and began dissecting animals.
He Wanted To Make Sure His Body Would Never Be Dissected
Holmes received capital punishment on May 7, 1896. He reportedly acted extremely calm in the moments leading up to his passing, but he did have one unusual request. He asked that his coffin be encased in cement and buried 10 feet deep. Possibly, Holmes feared becoming the target of grave robbers like himself.
Holmes’s hanging was not a neat affair. The initial fall failed to break his neck, and instead he dangled from the rope until he perished from a slow asphyxiation almost 15 minutes later.
How HH Holmes Went From Troubled Youth To America’s First Serial Killer
By the time H. H. Holmes was hanged for murdering his business partner in 1896, he had already committed numerous atrocities in Chicago, IL, as well as various scams and frauds throughout the United States.
Holmes is thought to have killed at least nine people, although some research estimates his kill count is much higher, potentially in the hundreds as a result of his Murder Castle in Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893.
H.H. Holmes’s origin story has been widely sensationalized by both curious readers and writers (2003’s The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson details Holmes’s murder spree in Chicago and was a National Book Award Finalist) as well as by Holmes himself.
Before his execution, Holmes wrote several lengthy confessions at the payment of Hearst, all of which made contradictory claims about his life and his participation in various murders. In the confessions, Holmes claimed to have killed 27 people, although many of those named were still alive when he wrote it.
No details about Holmes’s childhood (real or fabricated) can make sense of the horror he unleashed on the world as America’s first serial killer through his web of murder and deceit.
Holmes’s Parents (May Have Been) Physically And Mentally Abusive
H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in the small town of Gilmanton, NH, in 1861. Both Holmes’s parents were intensely religious, and used their Methodist beliefs to parent with cold, strict discipline.
According to some sources, this mistreatment included forcing the children into long periods of isolation and making them go without food. There are also claims that Holmes’s father used rags dunked in kerosene to quiet the cries of his children.
However, other researchers believe such claims about Holmes’s parents are false, and by all accounts he had a regular upbringing. Holmes himself wrote:
That I was well trained by loving and religious parents, I know, and any deviations in my after life from the straight and narrow way of rectitude are not attributable to the want of a tender mother’s prayers or a father’s control, emphasized, when necessary, by the liberal use of the rod wielded by no sparing hand.
Known as a serial liar and fraudster, it’s difficult to know what to believe about Holmes’s childhood years.
His Fascination With Dead Bodies Started From Being Bullied
At school, Holmes was bullied for his intelligence and odd nature. The bullying climaxed in a traumatic episode wherein schoolmates ambushed Holmes and forced him into a doctor’s office where they placed the hands of a skeleton on his face. Holmes claimed the incident sparked his interest in anatomy and medicine:
It was a wicked and dangerous thing to do to a child of tender years and health… but it proved an heroic method of treatment, destined ultimately of curing me of my fears, and to inculcate in me, first, a strong feeling of curiosity, and, later a desire to learn, which resulted years afterwards in my adopting medicine as a profession.
Seeking respite from his home life, young Holmes often retreated into the forest around his family’s house where he started to experiment with the dissection of animals.
Holmes began by cutting up the bodies of small reptiles and other small creatures, then moved on to mammals, including rabbits and dogs. This type of behavior is said to have sparked Holmes’s interest in human anatomy. It also made him comfortable with dissection.
He May Have Killed His Childhood Best Friend
When Holmes was 11 years old, his childhood best friend Tom – who was older – fell from the landing of an abandoned home the two boys had been exploring.
Holmes said he saw Tom fall, but in hindsight, many believe that he could’ve been close enough to push Tom off the landing.
Holmes Won Over His First Wife By Threatening Other Suitors
Holmes (although he still went by Herman Webster Mudgett at the time) met his future first wife Clara Lovering when they were both teenagers. After he saw Lovering flirting with someone else at a church gathering, Holmes approached the couple and threatened the boy with violence if he didn’t leave.
Holmes then escorted the seemingly impressed Lovering home, officially beginning their courtship which quickly escalated into a marriage when they were both 17.
He May Have Beaten His First Wife, Clara Lovering
According to some sources, housemates from Clara Lovering’s short time living with Holmes at the University of Michigan remembered regular arguments between the two and seeing Lovering with bruises.
While it’s difficult to say if these events occurred – as no police report was filed – Lovering and the baby did eventually leave Holmes, and the two never reunited. They were, however, still formally married when Holmes died.
When He Was In College, He Began Using Dead Bodies To Commit Insurance Fraud
During his medical studies at the University of Michigan, Holmes began to steal bodies from the school’s laboratory then mangeling or burning the remains. By making the bodies unrecognizable, he collected money on life insurance policies after the bodies were found and deemed accidental deaths.
Holmes also stole bodies from graves and morgues to sell them to medical schools, or to use for his own research and dissection. This scam earned Holmes thousands of dollars.
His Landlord Found A Dead Baby Under His Bed
There are many stories recalling Holmes’s fascination with anatomy and the body during his childhood and subsequent years in medical school. One claim came from his landlady who recalled following a foul stench into Holmes’s room where she found a dead infant underneath his bed.
Allegedly, Holmes claimed the body was part of his homework. While this didn’t result in any legal action, he was told not to bring his work home with him again.
He Regularly Got Engaged To Steal Money From His Fianceés
Holmes married Clara Lovering, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, in 1878 and she gave birth to their son Robert Lovering Mudgett. Holmes then used a combination of Lovering’s money and the funds from various life insurance scams to pay for medical school at the University of Michigan.
This was not the last time Holmes preyed upon the women who loved him for financial gain. On his way to Chicago after medical school (while still legally married to Lovering), Holmes tied the knot with Myrta Belknap. Belknap’s parents were wealthy and provided Holmes with enough money to purchase the vacant lot where his Murder Castle was eventually built when he got to Chicago.
Holmes put the deed under the name of his new wife and her mother in order to keep the creditors from catching on.
He Fled To Chicago To Avoid A Mountain Of Debt
After Holmes graduated from medical school he worked a variety of odd jobs, including teaching school and working as a doctor in Mooers Forks, NY. Holmes wracked up a great deal of debt during this time, often making up excuses to default on rent.
Eventually Holmes left town in the middle of the night to avoid paying. He wound up in Chicago, IL, the city where he later built his Murder Castle and kill at least nine people, although some estimates reach up into the hundreds of victims.
He Changed His Name To H.H. Holmes
Contrary to popular belief, Holmes did not change his name to reflect or comment on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in any way.The Great Detective Holmes didn’t appear in print until 1887, a year after real-life Holmes changed his name.
Instead, Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Harry Howard Holmes when he sat for his pharmaceutical licensure test in May of 1886, just after moving to Chicago to find work in a drug store.In doing so, Holmes kicked off his career as a serial killer that peaked during the 1893 World’s Fair.
He Was Quite The Womanizer
Holmes was notoriously charming and likeable. Apparently it was common practice for him to become engaged to a woman, ask her to sign over her property and wealth to him, then tell any suspicious people his beloved had left town suddenly.
This charm and ease served Holmes well when he employed and hosted young women in his Murder Castle in 1893 Chicago, IL. Preying upon women who were new in town, Holmes gained their trust before murdering them. He also reportedly got in trouble while in school for making a woman believe they were engaged.
He Was Constantly In Trouble With The Law, But Not For Murder
Even before his murder spree, H.H. Holmes was a notorious scammer and conman. He swindled money from various women, insurance companies, and landlords in multiple cities. Holmes also refused to pay bills, even on his Murder Castle. He told the builders he was not responsible or liable for their payment, as he’d put the building under his mother-in-law’s name.
Holmes was also known to buy items on credit and sell them for cash, and he was constantly the target of lawsuits. He even sold scam cures for various health problems at his pharmacy. In Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City, the author claims the Chicago chief of police had even represented Holmes in small “routine commercial lawsuits” before Holmes was brought in on murder charges.
Authorities Never Found The Bodies Of His First Victims
While accounts vary on who Holmes’s first victim was, it’s widely accepted that Julia Connor – Holmes’s lover – and her 8-year-old daughter Pearl were the first casualties of Holmes’s murder spree.
Holmes had been taking out debts in Connor’s name and listing her as a co-founder of multiple businesses. Connor and Pearl vanished on July 4, 1891, and their bodies were never found.
Not long after Connor’s disappearance, Holmes installed a basement furnace, and his secretary Emeline Cigrand also went missing. Around this time, many women in Holmes’s circle went missing.
Holmes Completed And Operated His Murder Castle
In 1887, Holmes purchased a vacant lot on the same street as the pharmacy where he worked and began construction on his Murder Castle, complete with hidden passageways and compartments, trapdoors, and secret staircases.
While estimates vary, some sources suggest Holmes may have killed hundreds of people while the Castle was in operation, mostly young women who were visiting or working in Chicago for the World’s Fair. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, however only nine have been plausibly attributed to him, and many of those he confessed to murdering were still alive.
Ultimately, it was the murder of his business partner Benjamin Pietzel (and allegedly Pietzel’s three children) that finally put Holmes behind bars and eventually on the gallows, effectively ending the first serial killing spree in America.
The young actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywoodland sign epitomised the cruelty of the film industry. What drove her to it?
The heartbreaking story of Peg Entwistle, the 24-year-old “Blond Brit” who jumped to her death from the original Hollywoodland sign in 1932, was a major inspiration for the new television series Hollywood. When the Netflix show was being planned by scriptwriters Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, they discussed Entwistle’s story, and wove a fictional attempt to create a biopic of the tragic actress into the plot, for a show Brennan calls “a fable of what could have been”.
Entwistle was dubbed “The Hollywood Sign Girl”, and (before the coronavirus lockdown) her name was invoked most days by tourist-bus guides as a symbol of the dark side of the Hollywood dream, a cautionary tale of a struggling actress who became more famous in death than she’d been in life. She had supposedly destroyed herself because of a failed career, and was said to haunt the site where she died. But, as Oscar Wilde noted, the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Entwistle’s story has been distorted over the years.
Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot on February 5 1908, and grew up in Comeragh Road in London’s West Kensington area. She suffered more than her share of pain and misery. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth and her father Robert took her to New York in 1913 to live with his new wife Lauretta. He did some acting and she would grab any chance to watch Broadway shows, even as a child, memorising scripts to put on her own productions at home. At 13, she started going by the name Peg, after seeing the play Peg O’ My Heart.
The first shattering blow came in April 1921, when Lauretta died of bacterial meningitis at 35, leaving behind two toddlers of her own. The second came in November 1922, when a limousine smashed into Peg’s father, in a hit-and-run crime on Park Avenue. The impact snapped his spine and he died from a resulting brain haemorrhage on December 19, aged 48. He was buried with Lauretta three days before Christmas. Peg was just 14 and she, Bobby and Milton were taken under the care of Robert’s brother Charles – a theatre manager – and his wife Jane.
After a spell in a girls’ boarding school in Los Angeles and some home tutoring, Entwistle finally landed the chance to pursue her dream of a stage acting career when, at 16, she joined The Boston Repertory Theatre company. Her first credited role was as a maid, and she was playing 12 shows a week. Entwistle earned good reviews for her performances in The Uninvited Guest and Alice Sit-By-The-Fire.
The 17-year-old made a huge impression on teenager Bette Davis, who saw Entwistle as Hedvig in a 1925 production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Jewett Playhouse in Boston. “A whole new world opened up to me. I was thrilled with Miss Entwistle’s performance,” Davis recalled in her 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life.
Entwistle’s success in Boston led to roles on Broadway within a year. In all, she appeared in 10 plays as a member of the New York Theatre Guild. She was profiled by the New York Times in February 1927 when she was part of the hit show Tommy, which ran for 232 performances. That year, however, she made a terrible choice, one that would have fateful repercussions. In April 1927, after a whirlwind four-day courtship, the 19-year-old married fellow Guild actor Robert Lee Keith. He was a 29-year-old recovering alcoholic – and had not told his young bride that he was already twice divorced, and had a six-year-old son.
The marriage was a disaster. She terminated a pregnancy in their first year together, having no desire for her own children and fearing it would disrupt her acting career. Keith began drinking heavily again, wasting funds from his new wife. Entwistle was deeply shocked when a New York detective came up to them in a restaurant and threatened to arrest Keith for owing $1,000 in alimony to his first wife. Keith later assaulted Peg in a hotel room, dragging her by the hair.
Entwistle divorced Keith in April 1929, by which time he’d been fired and blacklisted by the Guild. She was now struggling to hold on to her own acting career. In May 1929, after a run in a play based on Sherlock Holmes, she told The Oakland Tribune that she was worried she was “cheating herself” by taking on flimsy characters, expressing a wish that she could “play roles that carry conviction”. At the end of 1929, depressed and anxious about what the future held, she relocated to Hollywood.
Bad luck came into the equation at this point, because she gambled on making a successful film debut and reneged on a handshake commitment with influential producer Bela Blau to appear in a Broadway version of The Mad Hopes. Instead, she accepted a deal from RKO. Radio Pictures to appear in a movie adaptation of Tiffany Thayer’s bestselling novel Thirteen Women, produced by David O Selznick. The morbid nature of the film could not have helped. Entwistle played Hazel Clay Cousins in a thriller about a girl who uses swami-like powers to coerce her friends into murder or suicide. In the screenplay, Entwistle’s tormented character is brainwashed into stabbing her husband.
Unfortunately, concerns from censors over lesbian undertones meant the final film was cut to 59 minutes, with Entwistle’s screen time dropping from 18 to four minutes. Variety dismissed the film as “a butcher shop drama” when it came out on 16 September 1932. By that time RKO, suffering during The Depression, had told Entwistle they were releasing her from their contract, having passed her over for a part in Bill of Divorcement, a role that went instead to Katharine Hepburn.
The walls were closing in on the young actress. Her reputation in the world of New York theatre had been harmed by her U-turn over The Mad Hopes and she was running short of money. All her clothes and furniture were repossessed in New York in lieu of rent owed on an apartment. She had no alternative but to live with her aunt and uncle on North Beachwood Drive.
Just at this low point, she discovered that Keith had re-married, was sober and flourishing again as a playwright, along with his fourth wife Dorothy Tierney, another actress. Entwistle’s former husband went on to star in more than 40 films, including Men in War and Guys and Dolls. (But there was a horrific postscript to his family story: Brian Keith, the stepson who’d been kept secret from Entwistle, also made it as an actor, appearing in Disney’s 1961 hit The Parent Trap. In 1997, his 26-year-old daughter Daisy, an aspiring actress, shot herself; two months later, grief-stricken Brian Keith used the same gun to end his life in his Malibu home.)
Career struggles and failures in love were taking a toll on Entwistle. Her uncle later confided to police officers that he had been aware of her “intense mental anguish” in the days leading up to her suicide. The news of her axing by RKO was printed in Los Angeles’s newspapers on September 16.
Two days later, on a Sunday night, Entwistle told her uncle she was going out for a “rendezvous” to meet friends at a nearby drug-store. Instead, she headed for the famous Hollywoodland sign that had been erected in 1923 to promote local house sales. It’s a cruel twist that she had watched, as an excited teenager, as the 13 white letters, 45 feet tall, were hauled up Beachwood Drive on their way to being erected. The 150-foot sign must have made a dazzling sight during her arduous trek up the canyon hill. At the time, the sign was lit at night-time by 4,000 bulbs, and groups of letters flashed in sequence: HOLLY, then WOOD, then LAND — then all of them at once.
Entwistle took off her shoes and neatly folded her coat, placing it on the ground with her purse. She climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H, looked out over Hollywood, a place where she had once loved horseback riding in the hills with her younger brother Bobby, and then leapt off the edge. Her precise reasons for choosing the location – convenience, or a desire to gain notoriety – are not known. A note from Entwistle’s purse read: “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”
The cause of death listed by the coroner was “multiple fractures of the pelvis” and he ruled it “suicide due to despondency”. It is likely that Entwistle bled out internally, her organs punctured by bone shards. On Tuesday 20 September, an officer at Los Angeles’s Central Police Station took a call from an anonymous hiker who said she had found a woman’s possessions near the sign. Before hanging up, the caller revealed she had left the items on the steps of the station.
The police found her body in a ravine at the base of the sign. After identifying Entwistle’s corpse, her uncle, in an unguarded moment, told a reporter that his niece had “failed to click at RKO”. The newspapers had found their juicy “line”. “Suicide Laid to Film Jinx,” was the headline in The Los Angeles Times. “Movieland tragedy – the bruised body of a girl who failed,” The New York Times reported.
It’s also not clear how much truth there is in reports that she was sent letters on the day of her suicide with new offers of work. The letters allegedly arrived after her death. Some reports say an offer of a play came from the Hollywood Playhouse, others claim that RKO rescinded the decision to release her from her contract. Entwistle’s funeral was held in Hollywood and her ashes were sent to Ohio to be interred with her father’s. The grave remained unmarked until 2010, when a Facebook campaign raised money for an engraved granite headstone.
Over the years, a desire for salacious explanations grew. In the 1960s, there were reports that Entwistle had posed for naked photographs and been worried about a moral backlash hurting her career. In fact, the picture theory was simply a blunder. Kenneth Anger’s 1965 book Hollywood Babylon incorrectly labelled a semi-nude picture of another actress, a woman whose only similarity was a platinum bob, as Peg Entwistle. The mistake was corrected in the second edition but by then the damage to her posthumous reputation was done.
Netflix’s Hollywood drama is simply the latest project to pick over her bones. In 1972, Dory Previn released the song Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign (“a symbol of dreams turns out to be a sign of disillusion”). Three years later John Schlesinger’s movie version of Nathanael West’s satirical novel The Day of the Locust featured a scene in which a tour guide at the base of the sign recounts how “Camille McRae, 1929 Clam Queen of Pismo Beach” leapt to her death from “the great H”. American History X director Tony Kaye proposed a biopic about Entwistle in 2014, though it wasn’t commissioned. Singer Lana Del Rey’s video for her 2017 song Lust for Life was set on top of that same letter – and the song had references to the story.
Entwistle has also proved useful to the ghost-tour industry, with organised visits to see the sites of numerous reported visions of phantom Pegs. When the letter H fell down in 1944, it was attributed to Entwistle’s spirit, rather than the more likely explanation of rotten wood and high winds. Numerous dog-walkers and park rangers in the past half century have reported supposed sightings of the apparition of a blonde woman, dressed in 1930s clothing, who was “haunting the Hollywood sign”. There have also been accounts of people smelling gardenias, which was said to be Entwistle’s favourite fragrance. (A whole episode of Syfy’s Paranormal Witness was devoted to this story.)
In 2014, on the anniversary of her suicide, more than 100 people gathered above the gateways to the Hollywood sign –it had lost the LAND section in 1949 – to eat popcorn and watch Entwistle in a special outdoor screening of Thirteen Women. Although that was her only film role, she had been a successful stage actress, earning recognition for her performances. “When she came to Hollywood, she got recognised,” James Zeruk Jr, her biographer, wrote. “One time, she was out to dinner with her aunt and another actress and some people asked for her autograph because they saw her in a play in New York a month earlier.”
Entwistle was so much more than just the poor “Hollywood Sign Girl”. Late in life, Oscar winner Bette Davis looked back on the fate of an anguished young woman who had once done so much to inspire her own acting career. “She jumped to her death,” wrote Davis. “She could have had an enormous career, this girl.”
Rock-n-Roll was invented by a queer Black woman born in 1915 Arkansas. Your disordered hardcore punk rock was sanctioned by a kinky-haired Black girl born to two cotton pickers in the Jim Crow South. The electric guitar was first played in ways very few people could have ever imagined by a woman who wasn’t even allowed to play at music venues around the country.
The Patron Saint of rock music is Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The original punk rebel from which we were all born, SRT is muva.
Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to parents Katie Bell Nubin and Willis Atkins. Two regular folks both passionate about music. Growing up in the Church of God in Christ (her mother was a preacher), religious worship through musical expression, Tharpe musicality was fostered in an encouraging environment from the jump. Described as a music prodigy, four-year-old Nubin began singing and playing her beloved guitar in the church. Even in that way, Tharpe is representative of an American musical history born in the Black church.
By six, Tharpe was a featured performer in a traveling evangelical troupe where she accompanied her mother to gospel concerts all across the country, playing with people like Duke Ellington, before eventually settling in Chicago. Traveling influenced her a lot, and her music was flavored both by urban contemporary and the sounds of rural, backwoods towns. By 19, she had met and married Thomas Thorpe, a preacher, too. But that didn’t last long. And by 1948, ol’ girl had left her husband—taking his last name with her, which she adopted as a stage name. Thanks for that, Thomas.
1938 would turn out to be a banner year for Tharpe. During this time she recorded her first pieces of music, with the backing of Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra, This would mark the first time a gospel act would lay down tracks for Decca Records, a British lael that boasted other icons like Bing Crosby. But Tharpe was still just an icon in the making. Somewhat of a legend all on her own. During this time she came out with her first hit, “Rock Me” by Thomas Dorsey. And that shit is kinda emo! And powerful. Not only a talented guitarist, but Tharpe’s soaring vocals on the track also knock the wind out of you to this day.
Performing as both a solo artist and occasionally in collaborations with groups like the all-white group, the Jordanaires and Cab Calloway, Tharpe brought her show to places like the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. Shocking and then captivating audiences, most people at that time had never even seen a Black woman play an electric guitar before. Let alone one who could command one to make such noises. Both controversial and respected for her undeniability, SRT brought gospel music to mainstream popularity every night she performed. Blending the sounds of her childhood with jazz, blues, and the genre she was inventing all her own. Even when this ostracized her from the gospel community.
In 1944, another seminal year in Tharpe’s career, she released “Strange Things Happening Every Day”. A song that went on to become the first gospel to chart on Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade (now R&B chart). It is considered by some to be the first rock song, ever. Fast-forward two years and Tharpe is witnessing Marie Knight and Mahalia Jackson live in concert in New York City. Utterly spellbound by Marie Knight, Tharpe tracked her down and the two set out to perform together. While Knight sang and played piano, SRT did both, plus guitar. The two became lovers and creative partners through the rest of the decade. During this time they recorded “Up Above My Head”.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe continued to tour and make new music throughout the fifties and into the sixties. In 1964 she performed the now infamous show at an abandoned railroad station where it was broadcast nationwide in England. Dressed in that luxurious fur coat and driven by a horse-drawn carriage, Tharpe was rock-and-roll royalty whether people knew it then or not. Regardless of how historic and inspirational this show was, the sixties were when her popularity began to fade. Blues began to surge and she toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan alongside Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. But with the rise of male and white rock singers and musicians who appealed more to mainstream culture–as well as Tharpe’s devotion to recording religious material—she was pushed to the fringes of the musical movements she helped inspire.
And inspired many she did. Everyone from Chuck Berry to Elvis was influenced by Tharpe’s musicality. During his induction speech at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the Man in Black, Johnny Cash shouted her out as his favorite singer. A fact daughter-in-law Rosanne would later back up. Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Aretha Franklin credit her musicianship as an important influence on them. “She influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard,” says Tharpe’s biographer Gayle Wald. “She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.”
“When people would ask her about her music,” Wald says, “she would say, ‘Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I’ve been doing that forever.’”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe died from a stroke in Philadelphia in 1973. She had been living there with her mother in a modest home after her leg was amputated as the result of diabetes-related complications. Marie Knight was there to do the makeup and hair for her burial. Tharpe was buried in an unmarked Philly grave that has since been annotated.
As a Peruvian kid growing up in Southern California, I’d pick through my father’s record collection, between the LPs of Peruvian creole waltzes and Mexican ballads, to admire a strange album by an alluring woman dripping in jewelry, posing before an erupting volcano.
The album was “Voice of the Xtabay.” And the woman was Yma Sumac, the Peruvian songstress with the four-octave voice that launched the musical genre known as exotica, a cinematic fusion of international styles that allowed mid-20th century audiences a taste of the mysterious and the remote.
Sumac was the imperious, raven-haired Inca princess — “descendant of the last of the Incan kings,” according to lore — who maintained an extensive wardrobe stocked with sumptuous gowns, her crimson lipstick always applied to perfection. It was this Peruvian girl’s ultimate fantasy.
It was also a piece of fiction. Yma Sumac may have been from Peru. But her exotic Peruvian persona was invented in Los Angeles.
“Hollywood took this nice girl who wanted to be a folk singer, dressed her up and said she was a princess,” says her biographer, Nicholas E. Limansky, author of“Yma Sumac: The Art Behind the Legend.”
“And she acted like it.”
“Voice of the Xtabay,” the 1950 album that introduced her to global audiences, seemed like otherworldly evidence of her power.
It opens with the smash of a gong, ringing in “Taita Inty,” a song described as a “traditional Incan hymn that dates back to 1000 B.C.” (Never mind that the Inca civilization didn’t get rolling until more than 2,000 years later.) It segues to tunes like “Tumpa,” full of guttural scatting that evokes a wah-wah trumpet. All of it is held together by Sumac’s operatic trills, which could leap from low growls to high-C coloratura that sounded as if it could shatter glass.
“She took Peruvian traditional music, set it in the popular music vein and sang it with the voice of a coloratura soprano but infused it with jazz and blues,” says Limansky. “It’s a fascinating concoction.”
With composer Les Baxter setting Sumac’s Andean stylings and symphonic interludes against groovier beats, “Xtabay” bore no resemblance to any Peruvian music I grew up with or have heard on any trip to Peru. (Gongs, for one, are from Asia, not the Andes.) The album sounds more like a soundtrack for a ’50s-era jungle epic, featuring melodies that beg for a rum drink in a ceramic Polynesian tumbler. It was irresistible.
Added to this were the machinations of the overheated publicity department at Hollywood’sCapitol Records, which fabricated all manner of legends about Sumac, the supposed Inca blue-blood, crooner of “mysterious” Andean hymns, as a way of drawing the public’s attention.
Among them: that the album’s title song, “Xtabay,” was about the legend of a “young Incan virgin” who had a “forbidden love” with a “high prince of an Aztec kingdom.” No such legend exists.
Audiences, however, ate it up. So did I. To me, Sumac was a rare representation of the Andean in U.S. popular culture (albeit one distorted by the funhouse mirror that is the entertainment industry). And it was a representation soaked in glamour.
Sumac’s boom years were in the ’50s and ’60s, but thanks in part to Capitol’s epic myth-making, she had a surprisingly long career. performing into the 1990s, when she was well into her 70s.
Her first significant appearance, at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1950, was received with astonishment followed by rapturous applause. From there flowed numerous albums — including my favorite, “Mambo!” from 1954 — as well as performances all over the U.S. and Europe. In 1960, she undertook a historic 40-city tour of what was then the Soviet Union that lasted for months.
Over the course of her life, Sumac appeared on television talk shows from Steve Allen toDavid Letterman. Her music has appeared in commercials and on numerous Hollywood soundtracks, including “The Big Lebowski” and “Mad Men.” And it’s been sampled by hip-hop musicians. The Black Eyed Peas employed the groovy opening from “Bo Mambo” in their 2003 single “Hands Up.”
Today, eight years afterher deathat age 86, Sumac remains the subject of fan sites, Pinterest pages and Facebook groups. She’s inspired a veritable rabbit hole of lip-sync videos on YouTube. (One by Argentine actorLuciano Rosso, looking piratical, is particularly delirious.) Last fall, she received the ultimate digital nod when she was featured as theGoogle Doodleon the 94th anniversary of her birth.
Sumac could have easily gone down in the history books as a musical footnote. And if she’d remained a run-of-the-mill folk singer, she probably would have. But the combination of her beauty, her unusual music and the colorful stories that surrounded her transformed her into a legend with a devoted cult following. (I was once chastised on social media by a fan for not being sufficiently reverent.)
The high camp didn’t hurt either — the feathered headdresses and eyeliner on fleek — not to mention her stage design, with Styrofoam volcanoes and totems. A Times review of a 1955 concert at the Shrine Auditorium notes her “phenomenal voice” as well as “a touch of the ridiculous,” namely a set studded with “pillars of fire.”
“She was unique in the combination of things that she embodied,” says Peruvian anthropologist Zoila Mendoza, chair of UC Davis’ Native American studies department and daughter of a woman who was close friends with Sumac as a teen. “It was a whole fantasy.”
Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Peru’s Cajamarca region of the northern Andes on Sept. 13, 1922. (She later took the stage name Imma Summack, her mother’s name, which morphed into Yma Sumac after her move to the U.S.)
She was not, as one Parisian publication once wrote, raised in a “miserable hut of dried earth.” In fact, her well-to-do family included a physician and a judge. Her father was involved in local civic affairs; her mother was a school teacher.
“Definitely she was elite in the area,” says Mendoza, who’s studied indigenous performance in the Andes andwritten about Sumac.
As a teen, Sumac moved to Lima to go to school. It was there in Peru’s capital that she met Moisés Vivanco, a noted folk musician who would shape her early career — and whom she would ultimately marry and divorce (twice). One popular Sumac legend, crafted by the fabulists at Capitol Records, has Vivanco traveling for days to a “remote mountain region” to seek out the singer known for “talking” with the “birds, the beasts, the winds.”
Not quite. Vivanco met Sumac at a rehearsal in Lima, where, after hearing her sing, he invited her to participate in a folkloric event.
L.A. is full of people like her. People like Angelyne — these self-invented people. Joy Silverman, former director of LACE
All of this raises the issue of Sumac’s supposed Inca lineage. Her mother’s surname, Atahualpa, was that of the last Inca emperor. Whether that made Sumac a real-deal royal (or someone who could even claim indigenous identity) is unknown.
She likely spoke some Quechua, one of the principal indigenous languages of the Andes, as did most people who then lived in the highlands. But she was a fair-skinned mestiza, a mix of Spanish and Indian. “She was white compared to most Andean people,” Mendoza notes. “She had green eyes. She and my mother were very close friends. My mom also has green eyes. So they were these two pretty Andean women with green eyes.”
But Sumac emerged at a time when Peru was paying more attention to its indigenous roots. The wide dissemination of the archaeological wonders at Machu Picchu after 1911 brought attention to the country’s resplendent Inca past.
“In that context, the whole institution of folklore emerged,” says Mendoza, referring to the burgeoning industry built around Andean indigenous music. Recordings were made, radio programs launched and festivals held.
Sumac’s early repertoire reflected this musical current, including, for example,huaynos, brisk Andean highland ballads featuring strings and flute. (Some of these are in the 2013 compilation album by Blue Orchid Records: “Early Yma Sumac: The Imma Summack Sessions.”)
“By the time Yma Sumac came about, there was a whole infrastructure that allowed her to become a national figure,” Mendoza explains. “Before that, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Incas in the deli
Sumac and Vivanco became well known in Peru and had successful engagements in the important Latin American media centers of Argentina and Mexico. A successful recital at Mexico City’s prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes came at the invitation of Mexico’s president. In 1946, the pair moved to New York City, figuring that their success in Latin America boded well for the U.S. market.
But American audiences weren’t exactly rushing out to see Andean folk music. Sumac’s early years in New York, as part of a group called the Inca Taqui Trio, were spartan. They played supper clubs, Borscht Belt resorts, business conventions and, for a time, a delicatessen in New York’s Greenwich Village, where a magazine writer for Collier’s would later write that Sumac could be found performing “in a back room richly blanketed with the aroma of pickled herring, salami and liverwurst.”
Hollywood took this nice girl who wanted to be a folk singer, dressed her up and said she was a princess. And she acted like it.
— Nicholas E. Limansky, biographer of Yma Sumac
The trio nonetheless developed a following. One local television appearance sparked the interest of a talent agent who helped Sumac land a deal at Capitol. The Inca Taqui Trio was too folkloric for the label, so the label instead built an album around Sumac’s voice.
Enter: Exotica master Baxter, and a post-World War II U.S. public ready to be seduced by fantasy.
Also, enter: Los Angeles.
The record deal necessitated a move to Southern California, and by the late 1940s the couple were comfortably ensconced in tony Cheviot Hills on L.A.’s Westside. The move was key in Sumac’s metamorphosis from talented folk singer to Inca exotica pioneer.
“I don’t know if this could have happened in another city,” says Limanksy. “New York has Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera … famous classical institutions, and things were geared around that. But in Los Angeles, you had the film industry and everything that entailed. Her whole transformation, it does smack of Hollywood. … It was very cinematic.”
The tarted-up Inca princess identity was not something that Sumac was initially wild about. “She wanted to be a folk performer,” says Limansky. “She really didn’t like it at all.”
But once Sumac re-invented herself, forced like many performers to create a new sound in the name of success, she embraced the role with haughty grandeur. Known for striding on stage as if she’d arrived to reclaim her empire, she demanded the undivided attention of her public. In later years, she’d storm off if spectators so much as opened their mouths.
“She looked like a princess and she acted like one,” says Limansky, who attended some of her New York shows in the ’80s. “She was entertaining, but not in a ‘let me get in your face and laugh with you’ kind of way. … She was very formal with the audience.”
This regal quality translated to her roles in Hollywood films.
In 1954, she appeared in the Charlton Heston adventure flick “Secret of the Incas” as Quechua maiden Kori-Tika. In it, Sumac gives a pair of surreal mountain-top performances at Machu Picchu. She also throws serious side eye at Heston’s European love interest, played by Nicole Maurey. When Maurey tells her, “You speak English very well,” Kori-Tika replies cattily, “So do you.”
It’s a very different depiction from that other mid-century South American icon, Carmen Miranda, “the Brazilian bombshell,” seen as the flirty Latin party girl in the towering fruit hat. Sumac was way too royal for that.
Interestingly, Sumac’s noble persona (a role some say she came to believe) was built around ideas of Inca culture that had blossomed during Peru’s indigenist period ideas that weren’t always rooted in fact.
“When she became a folkloric artist in the ’30s, there had been a couple of decades in Peru of composers and musicians who had been creating symphonies and these really sophisticated pieces of music based on an invented idea of what the Inca sound was like,” says Mendoza. “It had very little to do with what contemporary indigenous people were actually playing.”
Sumac was channeling a concocted notion of Inca identity as an invented Inca princess. A fiction born in Peru adds another layer of fiction in Hollywood, and from that fiction rises Yma Sumac. What could be more Los Angeles?
“L.A. is full of people like her,” says Joy Silverman, director of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions through most of the ’80s. “People like Angelyne — these self-invented people.”
In the late 1980s, Silverman asked Sumac to perform at a LACE fundraiser when the organization was located in downtown L.A., a pioneer in what is now the thriving Arts District.
“She was exactly what you would imagine,” Silverman says. “You were in the presence of this dramatic Peruvian songbird. She was never out of character.”
Around the same time, Sumac also appeared — in sleek shades and plumed hat — in one of l.a.Eyeworks’ iconic magazine ads, part of a campaign that featured entertainers such asGrace Jonesand Iggy Pop.
“It was Yma Sumac — wehadto do it!” says l.a.Eyeworks co-founder Gai Gherardi, who recalls a petite woman of monarchical bearing with a taste for bananas. “Her image, she knew what it looked like, and she lived up to it.”
In her late years, Sumac played regular cabaret engagements at the now-defunct Cinegrill and the Vine St. Bar & Grill jazz club, not far from her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (She’s the only Peruvian with that honor.) Her cabaret shows brought out a crowd that author Tom Lang, who worked at Vine St. in the ’80s, describes as “Sunset Boulevard on ayahuasca.”
“The pre-show atmosphere was anticipatory, a legend returns,” he says via e-mail from Bali, where he now lives. “Opening night, sold out. A group of tiny Peruvians, impeccably dressed, at one table. [Pianist and author] Leonard Feather in his regular booth (throne). Bill Murray and his entourage, up front.”
Sumac was an uneven performer in those years — with good nights, as well as terrible ones, her voice cracking, her temper foul. The show at Vine St. was one of the latter. “I wanted to take her off the stage and hug her and tell everyone else to leave her alone,” recalls Lang.
There are other L.A. stories, too. About her taste for El Pollo Loco and her shopping trips to Bullocks Wilshire. “She must have had 300 pairs of vintage shoes from throughout the ’50s,” recalls her friend and former assistant Damon Devine, who runs the tribute websiteyma-sumac.com.
The singer, who was sold to American audiences as a wonder from a strange land, was, in the end, just another grand dame living on the Westside (she later moved to West Hollywood), who might enjoy an afternoon of listening to Eurodance with her assistant.
Ultimately, it was in L.A., the city that made her who she was, that Yma Sumac would ultimately come to rest.
Not long ago, on a warm afternoon, I paid a visit to Sumac’s grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s in the same mausoleum asIron Eyes Cody, a second-generation Italian American performer also known for a manufactured indigenous identity. (He frequently played a Native American in the movies and told the press he was Cree and Cherokee.) In another part of the building lies Constance Talmadge, the silent-screen star.
My father used to roll his eyes at Sumac’s claims of Inca nobility. But Los Angeles, a mestizo city and land of the faux historic, requires a ruler. Why not Sumac? In the photo displayed on her tomb, she is perfectly made up, wearing an indigenous textile and earrings as big as chandeliers. Just like an Inca queen.
FOR THE RECORD:
March 24, 2017, 4 p.m.:An earlier version of this story reported that Yma Sumac was the only Peruvian with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is one of two; radio personality Pepe Barreto is the other.