Gordon Merrick born 3 August 1916 (d. 1988)
Gordon Merrick was a best-selling author of gay-themed novels, and one of the first authors to write about homosexual themes for a mass audience.
During most of Merrick's life, homosexuality was still viewed in the American culture as a moral outrage. Editors and film censors demanded that gay men be depicted objectionably, and that gay relationships end tragically in literature and on film. Merrick, however, wrote stories which depicted well-adjusted gay men engaged in romantic relationships. And each of his books had a happy ending.
Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. His father was a stockbroker.
Merrick enrolled at Princeton University in 1939, studied French literature and was active in student theatre. He quit in the middle of his junior year and moved to New York City, where he became an actor. He landed a role in George S Kaufman and Moss Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner. Although he became Hart's lover for a time, Merrick tired of the theatre.
In 1941, Merrick quit Broadway to become a reporter. Exempt from the draft because of problems with his hearing, Merrick moved to Washington, D.C. where he got a job with the Washington Star. He later worked for the Baltimore Sun, then returned to New York to write for the New York Post. His years as a reporter helped him develop a love of writing as well as a writing style.
Still eager to participate in World War II, Merrick sought and won a job with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner to the CIA). He was sent to Algeria as a counter-espionage agent, rising to the civilian rank of captain. He was diverted to France and took up residence in Cannes. Because he spoke excellent French, the OSS gave him papers listing him as a French citizen.
In August 1945, Merrick returned to the United States. He tried to find work as a reporter again, but failed. So he went to Mexico and began writing.
Merrick's first novel, The Strumpet Wind (1947), was a huge success in the US for an gay novel. The somewhat autobiographical novel is about a gay American spy in France during World War II. With the money he earned, Merrick returned to France. Merrick continued to write in France, but success eluded him. He left France to avoid the unrest which accompanied the Algerian War of Independence. Merrick moved to Greece and took up residence on the island of Hydra.
During his Greek tenure, Merrick's best-known book, The Lord Won't Mind, became his second major American success. Charlie Mills and Peter Martin are both young, handsome and well-endowed. They meet and fall madly in love. The book has been criticised for its insistence on beauty in the gay male world.
The book follows Charlie's path from a closeted gay man to a person who accepts himself. Charlie is terrified of rejection, especially that of his rigid, moralistic grandmother whom he loves but who expects him to marry and have children. Charlie at first attempts to live a double-life, expressing his homosexuality through acting and painting. But his life is incomplete without Peter.
It is through Charlie's anguish that the reader catches a glimpse of Merrick's interest in the problems the gay male experiences establishing an identity.
The book appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list for 16 weeks in 1970. The first in a trilogy, Merrick followed it up with One for the Gods (1971) and Forth into Light (1974).
Merrick quit Greece in the mid-1970s when the local tourism industry made Hydra too crowded for his taste. In 1975, he moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). But he returned to France occasionally, eventually purchasing a home in Tricqueville. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between the two countries.
Gordon Merrick died in Colombo, Sri Lanka, of lung cancer on March 27, 1988. He was survived by his partner, Charles G. Hulse.
In all, Merrick wrote 13 books. He contributed book reviews and articles to The New Republic, Ikonos and other periodicals. But only his later works were successful. Merrick's works are rarely included in anthologies, and few discussions of American gay authors mention him. Some are dismiss Merrick because of his obvious romanticism; others do so because he sprinkles explicit scenes of gay sex throughout each novel.
But underneath the handsome blond studs with too much wealth falling in love on the Cote d'Azur are fairly progressive and even radical conceptualisations of what it means to be gay, the likelihood of self-actualisation, identity politics and the role power plays in relationships. Especially in his later works, Merrick rejected socially-imposed roles and labels, insisting that each gay person question the assumptions underlying his life. But his novels are ultimately romantic fiction for gay men.
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