Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
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Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on, and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often very funny) detail.
After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago's notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the name of Phil Andros.
Until today he has been known only as Phil Sparrow―but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided Justin Spring with the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life long before Stonewall and gay liberation.
Secret Historian is a 2010 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
calls for sequels, so one is comin’ up.” This erotic fantasy of a black man dominating a white man proved so compelling to German and Scandinavian readers that, in Steward’s words, “Phil Andros [the writer*] was thus ‘established,’ and the readers clamored for a sequel, and I went on writing.”* Having established himself under the pseudonym of Phil Andros, Steward began to develop a character by the same name: an “intelligent widely-read and sophisticated hustler [who would] appear as the
returned from his November visit to Europe deeply discouraged about setting up a tattoo parlor in Paris. He laid out his problems to Paul Gebhard: “The restrictions for me as a foreigner, the terrifically high bail* to pay to buy the ‘four walls,’ the difficulties of licensing—oh well, I just gave it up. Besides, I can’t handle the argot well enough to be able to control my clientele completely, and that’s necessary. So it’s back to Milwaukee.” The highlight of Steward’s lonely Wisconsin winter
particularly difficult and lonely period in his life—especially since, as Phil Andros, Steward was no longer a short, slight, failed English professor living alone, hooked on barbiturates, and bumping sixty. Instead he was a paragon of sexual virility, a burly professional hustler bursting with animal magnetism and attired in a black leather jacket, black cap tipped as far back on me curly Greek locks as it will go without falling, light-colored beige chinos (which show shapes and sizes
flames!” To another friend he observed, “From the very beginning I found him almost too much—too much to take in all at once, I mean. I tend to stammer or get incoherently lyrical when I try to tell someone about him. I feel like the guy in The Duchess of Malfi when he said: ‘Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle…’ Just so…my brain sparks and crackles and becomes short circuited.” The affair gave Steward a fine, upbeat way of closing his memoirs with a chapter that ruefully admitted his philosophy of
bachelor who lived with his mother, Zabel had little tolerance for fellow academics who could not keep up with his own exceptionally high level of productivity. “Zabel worked us unmercifully,” Steward later noted. “His razor mind under his youthfully bald pate made him the archetypal egghead, with a soft voice that could cut like a blade of Toledo steel if necessary.” Though Steward was now regularly drinking alone at night to blackout state, he nonetheless came into his own as a scholar at