The Lost Autobiography of Samuel Steward
Edited by Jeremy Mulderig
U. of Chicago Press. 274 pages, $30.
IN 2011, Justin Spring’s award-winning biography, Secret Historian (reviewed in the November-December 2010 issue of this magazine), brought to light the curious history of Samuel Steward. Steward was a former Loyola and DePaul University professor turned professional tattoo artist—a life change that was unusual enough. But it was his history as a sexual renegade, and his long-time collaboration with Alfred Kinsey on the famous Kinsey Report, that constitute his legitimate claim to fame—and the fact that he wrote a great deal of gay literature under the name of Phil Andros. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he had sex 4,647 times with over 800 different men, including Rudolph Valentino, Rock Hudson (in an elevator in Marshall Field’s department store), Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s young lover, who lived until 1945), and Thornton Wilder. He also maintained friendships with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, André Gide, and a host of other luminaries.
Born in Ohio in 1909 and living long enough to touch upon every decade of the last century, Steward seems to have been unapologetic—even defiant—about his sexuality right from the start, professing to have had sex with every member of his high school basketball team, four members of the football team, and three on the track squad. Nor, he claims, was he ever taunted for this—partly, he reasons, because the men he seduced enjoyed access to sex too much to complain, and also because of the relative lack of sophistication of people in small towns: “By and large, homosexuality and fellatio were considered so unbelievable and impossible that although one might be teased for being a sissy, no one could believe that any person actually engaged in the ‘abominable sin.’ This kind of thinking protected us all during the 1920s and ‘30s, and we lived happily under its shadow and cover.”