Jazz genius Billy Strayhorn spent his life in a jam: professionally, he couldn’t live with or without Duke Ellington. Gay in an intolerant time and homophobic musical subculture, he was lucky to be able to live and work openly behind the protective band leader. Yet Ellington took credit for Strayhorn’s music and made him work without a contract. Duke’s highest earning number, his signature tune, the holy grail of the era, Take the A Train, was, unknown to everyone at the time, written by Strayhorn, who never received any royalties. Ellington got rich. Strayhorn worked mainly to be able to work, without recognition or reward. But what work it is: Lush Life, Day Dream, Rain Check, Satin Doll, Chelsea Bridge, Lotus Blossom, Clementine, Johnny Come Lately, and many songs recorded by his dear friend Lena Horne, including Maybe, Something To Live For, and the double-edged Love Like This Can’t Last. As for his own “love like this,” within his first year in New York he and his boyfriend Aaron Bridgers moved in together and lived openly as a couple in Harlem, brave for 1940, when he was twenty-four. And, after a life of heavy drinking and constant smoking, when he died of cancer of the esophagus at fifty-one, he died not in Lena Horne’s arms as an oft-repeated story has it [she was in Europe], but with his partner Bill Grove. Although that was two years before Stonewall, Strayhorn worked in the early gay rights movement. Proving the depth of the prejudice he struggled against, even now the official Billy Strayhorn website completely de-gays him. We've had the prestigious biography for fifteen years; where is the Hollywood biopic?
Do you think Simon Amstell knew he was gay before or after he knew he was funny? At fourteen he appeared on a British morning chat show impersonating Dame Edna. The sweetness and malice stuck. Now 32, Simon's humor is sometimes branded "mean" or "horrible." (He prefers "cheeky.") True, he teased Amy Winehouse about her drinking, but as the host of Popworld from 2000 to 2006 he was often criticized for asking famous singers exactly what viewers wanted to know. One "notorious" incident was when Britney Spears appeared on the show long after rehab, court hearings to determine her stability, and public displays of erratic behavior, like shaving her head. Simon asked if she thought she'd "gone a bit nuts?" Britney cried, and people attacked Simon. To closeted Savage Garden singer Darren Hayes, Simon asked, "So, when are you going to come out, then?" Hayes said, "Excuse me?" Simon said, "You're obviously gay. Why won't you come out?" This was cut from the aired version. Hayes calls the incident pivotal in his finally coming out two years later and still refers to Simon as a "total prick." From October 2006 to January 2009, he hosted the comedy quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, winning top category prizes from the Royal Television Society, the British Comedy Awards, and the Broadcast Awards. The Times named the show (during Simon's era) one of the best forty programs of the decade. In 2010 he co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in Grandma's House, an award-winning sitcom in which his hapless, neurotic, adorable character, a former quiz show host named Simon, returns to live with his cheerful, middle class family. It's now filming its second season.