Cultural historian and American University professor Streitmatter (Mightier Than the Sword) absorbingly details the public and private lives of notable same-sex couples, deftly examining affairs, betrayals, and disappointments, as well as the enabling power that the right marriage, recognized or not, provides. Many of the pairs comprised a famous and not-so-famous member: Walt Whitman’s much younger partner and muse, Peter Doyle, sold streetcar tickets and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, while Greta Garbo’s upper-crust partner, Mercedes de Acosta, taught the star, who came from a poor family, rules of etiquette and style. The thoroughly researched, lovingly rendered joint histories—including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns—share a common thread that is less about gender than partnership-as-catalyst. Toklas championed Stein’s writing and became her literary agent; Rauschenberg encouraged Johns to act on the content of a bizarre dream and paint the American flag; Merlo “single-handedly stabilized Tennessee Williams’s life and career.” When James Baldwin seemed “on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” his partner, artist Lucien Happersberger, whisked him off to a Swiss village where he could focus on his work. The volume will have particular appeal to readers of gender studies, but these stories ultimately prove that true partnership is gender blind. Agent: Howard Yoon, Ross Yoon. (May)
Publishers Weekly – February 6, 2012
A selective glimpse at prominent same-sex nuptials.
Streitmatter (Communication/American Univ.; From Perverts to Fab Five: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians, 2008, etc.) considers the cases of 15 couples from a time when such unions were scandalous. In the households of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, both parties were famous. Typically, though, just one member of the outlaw marriage was celebrated. The less well-known, long-suffering partner was muse to his or her famous spouse. That was the case with Walt Whitman and his beloved streetcar conductor, Jane Addams and her financial supporter, J.C. Leyendecker and his Arrow Collar model, Greta Garbo and her social advisor and Tennessee Williams and his loyal caretaker. These notable subjects were not ordinary folk; they were social reformers, poets, playwrights and painters. The author begins each story with thumbnail bios, followed by a short section titled “Creating an Outlaw Marriage” and then some information on how they worked together. The tales continue with the ebb and flow of romance, faithfulness and loyalty, infidelity and betrayal. Finally, each story draws on newspaper obituaries that generally omitted mention of the spouse who figured so largely in the life of the deceased. While his topic undeniably interesting, journalist Streitmatter adheres to his journeyman’s formula too much; however, his book might be a nice gift for just the right couple, for he clearly loves his story. In the epilogue, the author proudly announces that he and his partner are now husband and husband.
Kirkus – March 13, 2012
Even when much has already been written about some of the same-sex couples covered in this exhaustively researched and cogently compact collection of joint histories – Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, for example – cultural historian Streitmatter brings fresh insights to his mini-biographies. His thesis: that the often lesser-known partner provided artistic stimulus or emotional support to his or her companion: 21-year-old Doyle became the muse for Whitman, 45; Merlo “single-handedly stabilized” Williams’ life and thus his career. The same can be said of almost all of the 15 outlaw marriages the author selected: over the 43-year relationship of Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams, it was Smith’s wealth that provided the financial backing for Addams’ activism; over the 38 years that James Baldwin was coupled with Lucien Happersberger, the latter’s emotional stability provided Baldwin with the security he needed to write. Many of these unsanctioned marriages endured until a partner’s death; one lasted less than a decade; some included jealousy and betrayal. But as America’s acceptance of marriage equality expands, Streitmatter’s study stands as proof that there have always been queer pairings.
PrideSource.com – April 5, 2012
Walt Whitman, the “father of free verse,” had a 25-year relationship with his muse, the significantly younger railroad worker Peter Doyle. Jane Addams, “the most admired woman in America” in the 1900s, and who became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, had a 40-year marriage with Mary Rozet Smith, whose financial backing kept Hull House afloat. Painter Lucien Happersberger provided James Baldwin with “the emotional security he desperately sought throughout his life,” despite Lucien’s dalliances. Even in the mid-1980s, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, remembered for sumptuous film adaptations of “iconic novels,” went public with their 25-year, same-sex relationship only after A Room with a View’s acclaim guaranteed financing for future productions. Smooth and rocky, 15 love marriages that dared not speak their name defied laws and mores, flouted conventions, and live today in Rodger Streitmatter’s essential, well-documented history, which includes rare photographs.
Booklist – May 1, 2012