A biography that rescues sculptor-painter-dancer-actor Paul Swan from near-obscurity.
When Andy Warhol filmed interviews with Swan in 1965, he reignited interest in the man, then 82. The Londravilles perform a similar function, as Swan is today largely forgotten. In what some may consider a quintessential portrait of a gay artist in the first half of the 20th century, the authors meticulously trace Swan’s life from his early personal and artistic struggles in a culturally parched Midwest to his success and then pathetic demise in New York City. Born to fundamentalist Methodist parents in Nebraska, Swan soon found solace in pursing his emerging talents as a painter and illustrator. A surrogate parent sped him to Manhattan when he was 19 and there he went on to dance, act and sculpt. In Hollywood for a time, he donned togas to appear in the first film versions of Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. He danced nude at salons in Paris and New York. Studying in Greece, he became preoccupied with Hellenic images of youth and beauty—his portraits (some still hanging at the Players’ Club in Manhattan) altered flaws and idealized his subjects. A rather stunning, intense beauty himself (Gershwin referred to Swan’s looks in a song lyric), Swan pursued men and women. He married Helen Gavit and fathered two daughters, while also engaging in passionate affairs with men. But as Swan’s artistic reputation grew with age, so did his deep distress over aging. Applying shoe black to his bald pate, lobbing on more mascara than Nefertiti and stuffing his pants with socks, he ended life as Mann’s Aschenbach incarnate.
A portrait fascinating in its details and themes.