Arts & Entertainment
A Feast With Green Carnations
By Charles Alexander
Originally printed 5/1/2014 (Issue 2218 - Between The Lines News)
Somewhere pressed in my book of memories is a green carnation, remarkably fresh with the passage of time.
It's there with a wrist corsage I hadn't the courage to wear to my high school senior prom and some daisy chains I linked together at my coming out party. The green carnation dates to 1991, when the Detroit Area Gay/Lesbian Council, an activist collective, held a fundraiser at Wayne State University's Hilberry Theater.
DAG/LC vanished into the sunset, as did Association of Suburban People, Michigan Organization for Human Rights, Motor City Business Forum (and, I'll add nostalgically, the Downtown YMCA). DAG/LC's legacy is Motor City Pride 2014.
The Hilberry Theater production was Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." Seventy-five of us DAG/LCers wore green carnations as badges of honor that memorable evening. The boutonniere was Oscar's brainstorm, or so he led the "earnests" of his day to believe.
Oscar borrowed the idea from Parisian gais, and at the 1891 first night of "Lady Windermere's Fan" got London queens - lower case - to give new meaning to the "wearin' o' th' green." The effect was electric, as was Wilde's then shocking curtain call, gold-tipped cigarette in hand.
Some time ago I swore I'd never read another Wilde bio (ditto Radclyffe Hall), having read my fill of the Irish genius, playwright, poet, esthete, raconteur, iconoclast, fashion maven and 19th century martyr for gay rights.
However - armpit snoop that I am - I couldn't resist Neil McKenna's "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde: An Intimate Biography" (Basic Books). Based on new Victorian documents, diaries and letters, it's unadorned tragedy glimpsed from several glory-hole perspectives.
According to McKenna, Oscar and Bosie burned their candles at both ends, more than once singeing hotel bed linen, to be sure. Together they indulged in a rarely interrupted orgy of boner escapades with clerks, waiters, bellhops, messengers, adoring gay groupies, stage door Johnnies and rent boys. Wilde called the latter act of noblesse oblige "feasting with panthers."
Oscar & Bosie were not exactly discrete in public as to whom they rubbed their velveteen kickers with; among close friends they boasted of their weekly conquests, providing salacious details of activity, sizes, positions, male brothel decor, hospitality and tea service.
One of Bosie's travel companions, journalist Robert Hichens, took copious shorthand notes while sailing down the Nile and turned these into a roman a clef, entitled - call FTD - "The Green Carnation," published anonymously in 1894, one year before Wilde's three notorious trials.
Thanks to Bosie's trash talk, Hichen's novel sold like holiday hot-cross buns. Though not mentioning O&B by name, it was clear to titillated readers just who did what, with which, to whom. "The Green Carnation" ran through four sizzling editions. It "ruined Oscar's character with the general public" and painted a lurid - and fascinating - picture of London's lavender set.
Wilde wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette: "I invented that magnificent flower. But . . . with the middle-class and mediocre book that usurps its strangely beautiful name, I have nothing whatsoever to do. The flower is a work of art. The book is not." Mary! Mary! Quite contrary!Charles@pridesource.com