Michael Feinstein's book on the Gershwins called, sensibly, “The Gershwins and Me” (Simon & Schuster) was published in October. While he was still working in piano bars, Feinstein got to know Ira Gershwin intimately, cataloguing his collection of records, unpublished sheet music and rare recordings in the Gershwin home over a period of six years.
The gay or not gay question has floated about George Gershwin even during the more restrained time when he was a young composer. It is an issue Feinstein tackles in his book. America's National Public Radio asked him about it:
So many speculated that George Gershwin was gay because he never got married. And somebody once said to Oscar Levant, you know, George is bedding all those women because he's trying to prove he's a man. And Oscar Levant said: What a wonderful way to prove it. There have always been rumours circulating about George's sexuality, and I addressed it because so many people have asked me about it, and it's important to the gay community to identify famous personalities as being gay. In the case of George, it's all rather mysterious because I never encountered any man who claimed to have a relationship with George, but a lot of innuendo.
Yet Simone Simon said that she thought that Gershwin must be gay because when they were on a trip together, he never laid a hand on her, she said.
Cecelia Ager, who was a very close friend of George's and whose husband Milton Ager was George's roommate, once at the dinner said, well, of course, you know, George was gay, and Milton said: Cecilia, how can you say that, how can you say that? And she just looked at him and said: Milton, you don't know anything. But when I asked her about it, she wouldn't talk about it. So it still remains a mystery.
My own theory is that I think that the thing that mattered most to George was his music. I think he could have been confused sexually. I don't know. I think that he had trouble forming a lasting relationship.
Kitty Carlisle talked about how George asked her to marry him, but she said that she knew that he wasn't deeply in love with her. But she fit the demographic of what his mother felt would be the right woman for him.
This is an extract of NPR's long talk with Michael Feinstein.
Photo: left to right, George Gershwin, Michael Feinstein, Ira Gershwin
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
I am naïve there is not doubt about that — and I am continually guessing about, speculating about, and sometimes stating outright that this dancer or that dancer are gay — when you are as involved in dance as I am this may be inevitable — but it never occurred to me that it might be important to the Gay community to know — I suppose it might be — but it feels odd to me — I think I need education. Perhaps we all do…..
When I was growing up in the 60s, and almost all images were of heterosexuals, it was a source of pride (and relief) to be able to say, “Ah, but Leonardo da Vinci was gay!” meaning that even if I was gay I had a chance of getting ahead in life. Maybe today it is different, with athletes coming out every couple of days in this period, it seems, but to think that Gershwin was a bit like me when I was young would have meant the world to me!
Why is this even an issue. Who cares!
“Who Cares?”, composed by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, from their 1931 musical “Of Thee I Sing” 😉
You idiot (no offense, but “who cares” really is an idiotic comment) — gay people care; you must have not actually read this before commenting.
“it’s important to the gay community to identify famous personalities as being gay”
In hindsight, (and I suppose, for the record for posterity ♂️), I regret having resorted so equally low as to use retaliatory name-calling language. We’re all idiots at the end of the day — we are after all, human. But suffice it to say the above comment from Karl I find oblivious, and somewhat insulting, though it’s all good ☺️ but without a doubt gay people do care – we are vastly outnumbered, and for essentially all time including up to and including the current present (in spite of much progress, it’s true), even among those like us (by nature, not choice, remember), so many never do come out and radiate their true selves. It means so much, especially historically, to know of those few who were brave enough (and proud enough) to do so…