Homage to a Chicago Organizer
To the Editor,
It was a sad treat to see my friend Danny Sotomayor’s photo used to illustrate your chat with historian John D’Emilio discussing queer life in Chicago [Nov.-Dec. 2021 issue]. As a founding member of ACT UP in the Windy City, Danny was a role model for gay Latinos in his political activism, and again when he publicly disclosed his status as a person with AIDS.
Our paths crossed at national organizing meetings and in-your-face protests, but the bulk of our friendship was forged in late-night, long-distance phone calls, when the rates were lowest, and we would gab for hours.
The final time I saw Danny was in November 1991, in Manhattan, the day after his lover and partner Scott McPherson’s critically acclaimed dramedy Marvin’s Room opened Off-Broadway. Having recently completed chemotherapy and struggling with an HIV-compromised immune system, Danny had great difficulty speaking. He broke into sobs trying to be understood. Their fierce caregiver, Lori Cannon, ordered me beforehand that I was not to show sorrow or shed tears during my visit. Danny needed to see his New York friends extending only love and steely happiness.
Thanks, G&LR, for honoring the brave fighter Danny Sotomayor. His memory is a blessing.
Michael Petrelis, San Francisco, CA
Addendum to the Annual Obits
To the Editor:
Your “In Memoriam” feature [in the Jan.-Feb. 2022 issue]failed to include a mention of Rusty Warren (1939–2021), who died last May at the age of 91.
Widely known as the “mother of the sexual revolution,” the comedian’s bawdy routines explored sex from a woman’s perspective. Her best-known song was “Knockers Up,” from the 1960 album of the same name. While living in Arizona, she and her life partner Liz Rizzo hosted numerous events and fundraisers for the LGBT community at their home in Paradise Valley.
Rusty never became a household name, and her comedy act was too risqué for 1960s TV. Nevertheless, she released
fifteen albums, toured extensively, and consistently played Las Vegas. The Advocate noted that, “although she remained in the closet for the early part of her life on account of her career, she came out later and performed on lesbian cruises throughout the 1990s.”
Vance Wilson, Phoenix, AZ
Thomas Mann and the real “Tadzio”
To the Editor:
Reading this magazine’s compelling review of Colm Tóibín’s novelized life of Thomas Mann in The Magician [Nov.-Dec. 2021 issue], I was drawn back to Mann’s novella Death in Venice, where his own same-sex desires were disguised as Aschenbach’s fascination with Tadzio. As we now know, the details of the novella closely resemble the author’s own experience in Venice when Mann encountered the charming and handsome son of a wealthy family who was visiting the city. During his own family’s visit to Venice, Mann became obsessed with seeing the real boy each day, whether in the dining room or on the beach, where “Tadzio” dislayed his seductive charms.
Mann’s contact with German youths included those he knew personally and those that he merely glimpsed in lecture hall audiences, was where his eyes would fall upon such young men. He wrote about them in his closely guarded diaries, which were not published until twenty years after his death.
Fast forward to the 1960s, when the openly gay film Italian director Luchino Visconti secured the movie rights to Death in Venice. He searched Europe for a teenage boy who embodied the perfect youth to play Tadzio. He found him in Bjorn Andresen from Stockholm. Asking him to strip to his shorts during an audition, Visconti declared that Bjorn was “the most beautiful boy in the world.”
Fifty years after Visconti’s film, a new documentary carries the same phrase as its title: The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2021). The film’s directors (Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri) tracked down Andresen, now in his mid-sixties, to learn how this singular role played out in his life. We learn that upon the release of the Visconti film, Andresen was besieged with lavish praise, offers of money, and countless sexual proposals. A visit to Japan was particularly difficult, where his blond good looks made him a cultural sensation.
Reflecting on his life, Andresen says that after the film, much was lost through years of drug and alcohol abuse, with few acting offers. Struggling through a difficult relationship and the loss of a child, his early fame came at a heavy price. One question that Mann’s novella and both films raise is: When does one’s personal life succumb to such public acclaim, leaving it open to unwanted attention and salacious gazes?
Joe Ryan, Colchester, VT