If I haven't posted anything in a while it's because I've spent every spare moment reading "Secret Historian", the phenomenal biography of a man I had never heard of: Samuel Steward (1909-1993)
|Samuel Steward aged 16|
|Getrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Steward's life-long friends|
|Photography by George Platt Lynes|
|Steward in a Polaroid with an unknown man|
What is most striking about the biography, however, is the utter contrast between outside and inside. Through Steward's meticulous diary entries we gain an insight into a highly intelligent and creative yet ultimately lonely and depressed man. At first the reason for the unhappiness is not quite clear. There is no doubt that society's repression of homosexuals in America - for pretty much all of Steward's life - was a factor. But then he did express himself sexually, and never seems to have felt guilty for his desires.
|Mike Miksche, a sadist whom Steward paid for S/M sessions |
|The Stud File recorded every one of Steward's sexual encounters for over 60 years|
Instead, the issue was self-esteem. Steward never seems to have been at peace with himself, restlessly moving from one sexual adventure to the next, one vocation to another, courting danger and setting himself up for literary rejections, while not allowing himself to really value his talent for tattooing. How can you stop yourself from becoming bitter?
|Steward in 1957, aged 48, with a tattoo he designed for himself|
|A tattoo made by Steward|
|One of Steward's pornographic novels, published under the pseudonym of Phil Andros. Cover: custom-designed by Tom of Finland|
When he was in his twenties and depressed, Getrude Stein wrote him a letter, talking of 'the question of being important inside in one'. This seems to be the key. And something Steward never quite mastered. Sadly - or luckily - happiness is far removed from brilliance.