”You’ve heard of the three ages of man – youth, age, and you are looking wonderful.’‘ – Francis Joseph Spellman
Back in the second Dark Ages, Cardinal Francis Spellman was a celebrated but calculating arch-conservative member of the Roman Catholic Clergy and one of the most vocal and high profile American priests of the 20th century.
He remains one of the most notorious, powerful and sexually voracious homosexuals in the Catholic Church’s history, and that’s really saying something. The politically well-connected Spellman, known as ”Franny” to assorted chorus boys, was NYC’s senior ecclesiastical leader from 1939 until he kicked-the-bucket in 1967.
Of course, the Catholic Church has suppressed the documentation of Spellman’s not-so-secret gay life, even pressuring The NY Times to keep quiet. The nation’s number one newspaper, with the motto ”All The News That’s Fit To Print”, censored information about him, covering up Spellman’s sexual secrets for many years, even after his death, clearly fearful of the church’s revenge if the paper didn’t fall in line. During Spellman’s reign, and decades afterward, all of NYC’s newspapers cowered before the Catholic Church. In 1950, on Spellman’s orders, the city’s department stores, owned largely by Catholics, pulled ads from the then liberal New York Post after publisher Dorothy Schiff wrote commentary critical of Spellman’s right-wing positions. Schiff was eventually forced to back down.
Spellman said that Tennessee Williams was ”a despicable affront to every Christian” and that Elizabeth Taylor was ‘morally repellent”. Anti-union, anti-Hollywood, pro-censorship, pro-Vietnam war (he called it ”Christ’s war against Communism”), He was vehemently anti-gay, yet… he remained a big fan of Broadway musicals.
Spellman was a friend of Roy Cohn (Jewish) Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (claimed to be a Catholic) and especially Richard M. Nixon (Quaker), who Spellman supported over the Catholic John F. Kennedy in 1960. Spellman safeguarded McCarthy’s 1953 investigation of homosexuals in the federal government, and he even exchanged cross-dressing tips with J. Edgar Hoover.
He was once invited prayer breakfast by President Lyndon B. Johnson, along with Billy Graham. LBJ asked both of them what he should do next in the Vietnam War, Graham was uncomfortably silent. Spellman unhesitatingly ordered: “Bomb Them! Just bomb them!” And the President did.
Writer Michelangelo Signorile:
”Spellman was the epitome of the self-loathing, closeted, evil queen, working with his good friend, the closeted gay McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn, to undermine liberalism in America during the 1950s’ communist and conduct homosexual witch hunts.”
In the 1940s, Spellman had an affair with a Broadway dancer (who of us has not?) who was appearing in the musical One Touch Of Venus. The prelate would have his limousine pick up the dancer several nights a week and bring him back to his place. When the dancer once asked Spellman how he could get away with this, Spellman answered: “Who would believe it?”
Many cardinals have had books written about them, but few have become the fictionalized heroes of bestselling novels. Spellman was the thinly disguised main protagonist in The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson. It topped the best-seller list for 20 weeks, and was the most popular book, fiction or non-fiction, of 1950. It was adapted to film by Otto Preminger in 1950, nominated for six Academy Awards. The cast features Romy Schneider and John Huston, and improbably, as the man who becomes the cardinal, hot gay actor/writer, Tom Tryon.
Little Francis Spellman turns an amazing 127-years-old today. Just last week I thought saw him at The Eagle, my Portland neighborhood’s gay leather/bear bar. He looked like he had been hitting the gym. He paid no attention to me. I am decades too old for Franny.