Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Samuel Steward

In the same summer, 1937, that he acquired the sexual scalp of Alfred Douglas, the American teenager Samuel Steward visited André Gide in Paris.  Among the fragments he recalled of their conversation was Gide’s opinion of Ernest Hemingway: ‘One can see through the hairy chest.  He is a poseur.  He pretends to be a man but all the time struggles against what he really is—else why the overwhelming male friendships in all his works?’  Gide invited Steward back another day and showed him into a bedroom where he found the eighteen-year-old Ali, whom he had admired on his previous visit, lying naked on the bed.  This was probably a more pleasurable gift than the great man’s own body would have been.
            Next on the industrious youth’s list of literary celebrities, albeit not as prospective sexual conquests, were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  He spent two weeks of the summer with them at Bilignin in the south of France.  She, too, spoke to him—perhaps as a fellow American—about Hemingway.  She said ‘She had denigrated male homosexuals to Hemingway to see if he would squirm because he was a secret one’.  (Hemingway reported her homophobic remarks in A Moveable Feast.  He said she said: ‘The main thing is that the act male homosexuals commit is ugly and repugnant and afterwards they Are disgusted with themselves.  They drink and take drugs to palliate this, but they are disgusted with the act and they are always changing partners and cannot be really happy’.)  Then, in September, Steward visited Thornton Wilder in Zurich.  They went to bed together and, according to Steward’s account, ‘Thornton went about sex almost as if he were looking the other way, doing something else, and nothing happened that could be prosecuted anywhere, unless frottage can be called a crime.  [It could, of course.]  There was never even any kissing.  On top of me, and after ninety seconds and a dozen strokes against my belly he ejaculated’.  But Steward, alas, did not.  Later, back in the States, ‘I became his Chicago piece, possibly his only physical contact in the city’.  But Wilder was incapable of ordinary intimacies: ‘He could never forthrightly discuss anything sexual; for him the act itself was quite literally unspeakable’.  His secretive approach to his love life ensured that all of the love and much of the life were left out of it.
            Steward became a tattoo artist under the pseudonym Phil Sparrow.  He kept a diary of his activities for the Kinsey Institute.  He met Kinsey in Chicago in 1949.  Other than handshakes, they never had any physical contact.  Kinsey gave him free access to the Institute archives.  Steward contributed to Der Kreis, the trilingual (French, German, English) homophile magazine published in Zurich from the 1930s to 1967.  Other American contributors included George Platt Lynes (under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf), Paul Cadmus and James Barr.  After its demise he contributed to Kim Kent’s two magazines eos and amigo, also trilingual (Danish, German, English), published from Copenhagen.  But Steward’s main claim to fame in his own right was as the pulp/porn novelist Phil Andros.

Samuel M. Steward, Chapters from an Autobiography (San Francisco: Grey Fox, 1981), pp.56, 58; 63, 75.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (London: Cape, 1964), pp.25-26.

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