elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Jack Fontan & Ray Unger (plus Alexander Jensen Yow & Bill Harris)

Browsing for the lives of known artists and writers (Christopher Isherwood, George Platt-Lynes, Paul Cadmus…), I started to always find the same names for those models who were the above artists favourites. I started to wonder, who were these men? How was their life? Most of the time they were themselves artists, not famous enough to even have money for a meal, they shared their lives (and bodies) with artists (and not only on the canvas). Some of them had wealthy patrons, some of them even inherited money or real estate properties from those wealthy patrons, and some of them loved each other in poverty.

“On January 1 [1950], Bill Harris arrived to stay with Christopher [Isherwood]. He had come from New York to California to visit his mother, who was living in La Jolla. Bill was greatly excited by Jack Fontan [discovered by talent scouts in a gym Jack Fontan was given a role as a sailor in the Broadway musical South Pacific in 1948], his new lover. Jack had a small but prominent part in "South Pacific", which had opened in New York the previous April. The character Jack played was called Staff Sergeant Thomas Hassinger on the program, but he was already known to hundreds of queers as "The Naked Sailor". Wearing nothing but a pair of the shortest shorts, without underwear, Jack sprawled in the midst of the group which sang "What ain't we got? We ain't got dames" - displaying nearly all of his large and magnificent body, including glimpses of his genitals. Bill has a reclining photograph of him stark naked; it had had to be shot in three separate sections because of Jack’s great length. Bill proudly displayed it on a shelf in the bedroom where he slept during his visit. (Picture: Jack Fontan, 1954, by George Platt-Lynes) 

The Bath, 1951, by Paul Cadmus (Jack Fontan & Alexander Jensen Yow)
Christopher Isherwood met American artist Bill Harris in the summer of 1943. Later Bill became Pancho Moraturi’s lover. In 1949 Harris met actor Jack Fontan, who had a role as a sailor in the Broadway musical South Pacific. Paul Cadmus used Fontan and Alexander Jensen Yow  (later Pierpont Morgan Library curator and Lincoln Kirstein’s lover) as models in The Bath (1951). Fontan spent 53 years with his companion, Ray Unger, American artist and astrologer, also known for his beauty (he was a male nude model for Pat Milo).

Jack Fontan, 1954, by George Platt-Lynes

Bill Harris and Jack Fontan had met each other in the late fall and Bill had immediately moved in with Jack who was living in an abandoned synagogue. When the cold weather began, their waterpipes froze. Bill had to fetch water in pails from a shop below – he spoke of himself as being “like Rebecca at the well”. The cold was so intense that they couldn’t get warm even when holding each other in bed. Bill and Jack tried to remedy this by lifting the bed onto two chests of drawers – one at each end – over the gas oven, but, when they climbed into bed, the bed broke in half. Since they couldn’t use the toilet, they had to shit into newspapers and then leave their shit packages outside the windowsill until they froze solid and could be carried downstairs and left in a trash can… Bill described these hardships to Christopher with the sentimental relish of an infatuated lover. (Picture: Bill Harris, 1945, by George Platt Lynes)

To return to the subject of Jack Fontan’s shorts in South Pacific, Jack tells me - August 4, 1973 - that, when rehearsals started, the minor characters were given a pile of military garments and told to pick out the ones that fitted them. So Jack got himself a navy work-shirt, pants and a pair of shoes. When Joshua Logan, the director, arrived to inspect the costumes, he promptly ordered Jack to take off his shirt and his shoes. He then called for a pair of scissors and snipped away the legs of Jack's pants, just above the knee. This didn't satisfy him, however. He kept snipping higher and higher, until Jack's legs were left bare right up to the crotch. Logan then decided that Jack could put the shoes on again. 

Bill Harris by George Platt-Lynes

Bill Harris, 1945, by George Platt-Lynes

Jack wasn't in the habit of wearing underwear. So he came on stage on the first night with nothing under his shorts. After the show had been running a few days, the stage manager told him there had been complaints from ladies sitting in the front rows. Jack was to put on jockeys. When Logan heard of this, he was very angry. The jockeys were prohibited. Logan's instructions to the box-office were: “If they don't want to see his balls, they can have their money returned”.

Bill Harris stayed at the Rustic Road house during most of January – from the 1st to the 11th, from the 17th to the 28th and from 31st to Febraury 3, when he returned to New York. The visit was a success, from Christopher’s point of view; Bill was a model guest, helpful with household chores, always ready to make himself agreeable to callers and to keep himself occupied when Christopher had to work or go out. Aside from this, he was a cheerful, responsive companion. He showed an interest in all Christopher’s doings and concerns which seemed feminine in the very best way. I think Bill enjoyed his visit too – even including his unpleasant psychic experience. This was anyhow a happy period in his life, because of Jack Fontan – and there is a peculiar pleasure in talking about a current love affair to a sympathetic ex-lover. Bill and Christopher shared pleasant memories of sex with each other. Bill knew that Christopher’s interest in Jack Fontan was therefore more than merely polite; it had a quality of identification. But Bill also knew that Christopher wasn’t in the slightest degree jealous, wasn’t carrying even the last ember of a torch. So the two of them could be perfectly relaxed together. (Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945-1951 by Christopher Isherwood)” 

Jack Fontan, 1953, by George Platt-Lynes

Bill Harris died in 1992. American artist, Isherwood met him in the summer of 1943, and they began a love affair the following spring. The relationship lasted only as a casual friendship. Harris later moved to New York where he became successful as commercial art retoucher. Isherwood refers to Harris as “X” in his 1939-1945 diaries, and he calls him “Alfred” in My Guru and His Disciple. Later Bill became Pancho Moraturi’s lover. Moraturi was a wealthy Argentinean man, who was Bill’s longtime lover, companion and supporter. In his April 1949 preface to The Condor and the Cows (“To the reader”) Isherwood names Moraturi and Harris among those whom he wishes to thank for helping him and Caskey during their visit to Buenos Aires.

Jack Fontan’s career in acting was short-lived; the rest of his life was spent painting and owning gyms. Fontan had studied art at New York University, and through his friendship with fellow student Jensen Yow (later Pierpont Morgan Library curator and Lincoln Kirstein’s lover) he modeled for George Platt Lynes. The famous photographer made a series of photos in which Jack Fontan gradually performs a kind of striptease until he is fully unclothed. This was a technique often used by Platt Lynes with his models. Paul Cadmus used Jack Fontan and Jensen Yow from among the same circle of friends as models in The Bath (1951). One figure on the left is looking in the mirror and the other one is seen bathing in the tub. It is a very formal, technically accomplished composition, yet it nevertheless conveys a slyly modern - and perhaps post-coital - feel to the homoerotic domesticity of its two male figures. (Picture: Jensen Yow by George Platt-Lynes)

In 1950, Jack Fontan met his long-time partner Ray Unger, a II World War veteran. After leaving New York City together, Ray and Jack settled to Laguna Beach, California, where they worked as collage artists. Residents of Canyon Acres, they barely escaped with their lives when their house at the far end of the road slipped off its foundations and was broken in two by a slide of mud and rocks during the flood of February 1969. The pair worked as professional astrologers during the 1970s and afterward owned and managed a gym. 

Jensen Yow, 1948, by George Platt-Lynes 

Jensen Yow, Fire Island, 1940, by PaJaMa (Paul Cadmus, Jared French & Margaret French) 

Ray and Jack were the owners of the Laguna Health Club, a place that acquired notoriety when in summer 1989 Bette Midler decided to join. A parade of cars inched past the picture window for weeks, straining for a glimpse of the star, said Raymond Unger. "It used to make us furious," Unger said. "The phones were ringing off the hook. They'd call up (and ask), 'Is Bette there?' " Jack said he thought it was some kind of a joke when he first got a telephone call from a man, claiming to be Midler's trainer, asking if a celebrity could work out at the club "without being bothered." "I figured he was some kind of a jerk and I said, "How am I to assure you that your celebrity won't be bothered at my gym?' " When Midler arrived, bundled in a thick sweat suit, no one knew who she was, Unger said. "The boy at the desk thought she was some housewife. When she signed her name, he said it was funny that she had the same name as Bette Midler," Unger said. "Then when she took off her sweat suit he said, 'Oh my God, it's Bette Midler' when he saw her hair." Long after Midler had stopped working out at the club, it continued to get phone callers asking if she was there, Unger said. 

Ray Unger by Pat Milo

On May 22, 1992 Kathryn Turner and Bivens Hunt were at Laguna Beach City Hall to register as a couple under the city's new domestic-partners ordinance, the first such law in Orange County granting rights to gay men and lesbians similar to those of married couples. When Ray Unger (born 1924) and Jack Adams Fontan (born in 1927) moved to Laguna Beach in 1956, it was a little seaside village of about 8,000 people. The two, who were companions for 53 years until Ray's death in 2006, were among those at City Hall that day.
"This is long overdue," Fontan said. "We already have legal protection for each other, but we thought it was a good idea to set an example for the young folks. We don't like the idea of them growing up thinking there is something wrong with them."
In 1994 their house was, again, destroyed by the widespread fire which devastated the area, and they resettled at 1050 Deepak Road, Snow Creek, Coachella Valley, Riverside County, Palm Springs, CA

Source: http://frounch.blogspot.com/2010/01/jack-fontan-friends.html

Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
ISBN-13: 978-1500563325
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time

Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher

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