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was still working in piano bars, Feinstein got to know Ira Gershwin intimately, cataloguing his collection of records, unpublished sheet music and rare recordings in the Gershwin home over a period of six years.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