Categorically Famous
Literary Celebrity and Sexual Liberation in 1960s America
Guy Davidson



IN THE 1992 SEINFELD EPISODE “The Cheever Letters,” a letter from John Cheever found in the burned ruin of George’s girlfriend Susan Ross’s family’s cabin reveals that her father had a passionate affair with the writer.1 Mr. Ross’s decloseting—the letter is contained in a previously secreted box—parodically replays the revelations of Cheever’s own same-sexuality in his daughter’s memoir and in his own posthumously published journals and letters.2 The Seinfeld version of this literary-historical event and subsequent narrative complications within the show constellate concerns central to this book. In his posthumous career, Cheever became paradoxically famous for being closeted, throwing into relief pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall conceptions of homosexuality as they play out in relation to the public figure of the author. Exploiting Cheever’s outing for humorous effect, Seinfeld indicates the tangled relations between sexuality, liberation, and mass-mediatized literary fame that are the focus of the following pages. An exemplar of popular media itself, Seinfeld draws on and further circulates the newly dominant image of Cheever that disrupted the notion of him as patrician husband and father that held sway during his lifetime. “The Cheever Letters” thus indicates how literary celebrity can be a flashpoint for understanding same-sexuality in both pre- and postliberation dispensations. But if the revelation of the Cheever-like Mr. Ross’s homosexual past suggests a suppressed authentic identity that might have benefited from the liberationist emphasis on openness and pride, other aspects of the subsequent story line complicate this perspective. Seinfeld explicitly identifies Mr. Ross as “a homosexual” but juxtaposes this with representations of sexual “fluidity.” Mr. Ross stays married, and his daughter Susan later goes through a lesbian phase that “doesn’t take.” Her girlfriend, meanwhile, who has “never been with a guy,” instantaneously relinquishes her Kinsey 6 status when she comes within the orbit of Kramer’s sexual charisma, prompting George’s incredulous plaint, “I drive them to lesbianism, he brings ’em back.”3

“The Cheever Letters” and subsequent episodes of Seinfeld suggest the complicated relations of individuals to sexual categorization. Representative recent critical understandings of Cheever’s sexuality, however, divide into accounts that understand Cheever as either symptomatically repressed or as unclassifiable as gay, according to contemporary understanding. For Geoff Dyer, reviewing Cheever’s Journals in 2009, Cheever’s “slow discovery and eventual acceptance of his sexual identity conforms to the larger story of homosexuality in the 20th century.” Quoting from the journals, Dyer presents Cheever as moving from efforts to suppress homosexual desire, supplemented by self-denying performances of homophobic censoriousness, to “gradual acceptance (‘I am queer, and happy to say so’), celebration and realisation that real harm was caused not by one’s sexual nature but by ‘the force that was brought to crush these instincts and that exacerbated them beyond their natural importance.’4 By contrast, the historian Barry Reay, in New York Hustlers: Masculinity and Sex in Modern America, contends that Cheever’s notoriously homophobic statements indicate resistance to homosexual categorization rather than self-loathing or denial. For Reay, Cheever illustrates his revisionist argument that the dominance of homosexual identity as the framework for understanding same-sexuality needs to be dated much later than is usually the case—effectively to the postliberation period. Because homosexual identity was widely understood to involve effeminacy, Reay argues, many normatively masculine men did not understand themselves as homosexual, “whatever their same-sex cravings.”5 If Dyer’s account exemplifies the popular teleological narrative of gay emancipation that queer scholars have rightly challenged, Reay’s argument is indicative of the inclination of queer studies to emphasize the deconstruction of the homosexual/heterosexual binary at the expense of appreciation of the social potency and political efficacy of sexual identity categories.6 While his book usefully thickens our understanding of how many midcentury men lived their sexualities, Reay significantly underestimates the force of the homosexual/heterosexual binary by the midcentury period—thus necessarily ignoring Cheever’s statements of self-acceptance, quoted by Dyer.7 Reay also understates the flexibility with which the putatively monolithic category of “the homosexual” may be inhabited.

The Seinfeld story line I’ve briefly sketched indicates instead that sexual identity categories do not necessarily exclude epistemological ambiguity and the usefulness of postliberation gay and lesbian identities as political points of reference and as guides for everyday living. This double-edged claim is the founding assumption of Categorically Famous, which recognizes the contingency of sexual identity categories, but, through an examination of three celebrity writers—James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, and Gore Vidal—challenges the reflexive valorization of instability, indeterminacy, and opacity that has come to dominate queer studies: what we might, with apologies to Kant, dub “the anticategorical imperative.” By contrast, Categorically Famous is animated by interest in what epistemological and political affordances might follow from treating sexual identities not as essences but as deeply meaningful for both individual and group experience.

My challenge to the anticategorical imperative concomitantly involves a revision of queer studies’ antiliberation bias and its critique of gay visibility and audibility—a bias and a critique that I suggest involve a repression of queer theory’s own indebtedness to liberation discourse. I argue that the importance of open assertions of gay and lesbian personhood is evidenced by an examination of the careers of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal. Despite their own objections to sexual identity categories, these three writers, through their widely publicized and widely read work and through their celebrity embodiments of queerness, contributed to the highly mediatized “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, particularly to the increasingly open discussion of homosexuality that helped construct a widespread, politically progressive understanding of gays and lesbians as an oppressed minority. This historical argument ramifies into two further central theoretical claims. First, I contend that an examination of the careers of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal enables a rethinking of the usual understanding within queer studies of gay and lesbian visibility as a form of social control. Second, I demonstrate that the example of postwar queer celebrity necessitates a reappraisal of the dominant view of the relations between privacy and publicity in celebrity studies. Celebrity is generally understood by scholars to involve a crossover or confusion between the public and the private. Graeme Turner, for instance, argues that public figures become celebrities at the point in which “media interest in their activities is transferred from reporting on their public role (such as their specific achievement in politics or sport) to investigating the details of their private lives.”8 But such general claims are complicated by the phenomenon of queer celebrities in the preliberation era, during which the media could not or did not usually directly comment on the homosexuality of public figures. The desire for knowledge and truth about the private life of the queer celebrity may certainly impel public and media interest during this period, but the homosexuality of that figure cannot be directly acknowledged—in the mass media at least. If sexuality in general is constituted in modern culture as the most private and therefore the most truthful aspect of the self, then homosexuality in particular—as the sexual orientation subject to the most intensive operations of secretion and disclosure—throws the operations of celebrity into fine-grained relief.

Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal were all homosexual or bisexual in orientation, and for each their celebrity status was complexly related to their queerness. All three writers gained or consolidated their fame in the 1960s in part through their representation and embodiment of sexual daring. Yet Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal each resisted open declarations of their sexuality. In refusing gay or lesbian identity, these writers could be seen as participating in the discursive regimes of the closet or the open secret, which queer studies has commonly understood as structuring homosexual identity in the preliberation period.9 But Categorically Famous deemphasizes this reading, drawing attention to the ways in which the taboo-breaking careers of all three writers contributed to the increasing climate of openness about homosexuality during the 1960s that was an important precondition of liberation. Despite their various forms of resistance to gay identity, all three were persistently identified with it. If Cheever has become a byword for the dramatic move from the closet to visibility that liberation entails, these three writers, I suggest, manifest proto-visibility during the decade in which liberation emerged. While Cheever successfully avoided or kept at bay homosexual identification during his lifetime (despite the queer interests of much of his writing), Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal in different ways modeled the possibilities of the open profession of homosexual orientation, however inadvertently.

The identification with homosexuality was differently elaborated for each writer and took place across different time frames. Commentary on Baldwin and Vidal was frequently shot through with gay innuendo, and this knowingness reached a kind of tipping point for both writers in 1968 with Eldridge Cleaver’s homophobic attack on Baldwin in his best-selling Soul on Ice and the “outing” of Vidal on live TV by the right-wing pundit William F. Buckley Jr. Sontag’s public association with queerness was more oblique. Her image had a sexually perverse cast that was importantly informed by her mediation of gay male sensibility, but this was offset by her public profile as an ostensibly heterosexual divorced mother, as well as by her conventionally feminine gender performance; it was not until the 1990s that Sontag’s same-sexuality was widely discussed. Sontag thus cannot be understood as a proto-lesbian celebrity in quite the same way that (their protestations notwithstanding) Baldwin and Vidal can be understood as proto-gay ones; her career instead exemplifies how gay male culture, as the most widely publicized version of queerness, may enable other kinds of queer cross-identification.10 Despite these different relations to gayness, I argue that all three writers proved unable to manage their association with homosexual identity. While I accord due respect to each writer’s account of his or her own sexuality, and while I acknowledge the sometimes reductive and indeed derogatory effects of the associations of each writer with gay or lesbian identity, this book does not make a case for these writers’ heroic resistance to sexual categorization. Departing from the emphasis within queer theory on sexual identity categories as coercive operations of power/knowledge, I draw on my analysis of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal to argue for the political and critical value of those categories.

Categorically Famous does not propose that same-sexuality is necessarily the most productive perspective through which to view all these authors’ work. It does, however, argue for the crucial relations of career-defining moments for all three writers to the emergence of the discourse of gay and lesbian liberation. I elaborate my claims through close readings and thick descriptions of these moments, outlining each author’s mobilization of homosexual meaning and his or her engagements with homosexual subcultures. At the same time I bring these authors’ work into dialogue with queer theory to interrogate some of its foundational assumptions regarding identity, visibility, and liberation. While I concentrate on the decade leading up to the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969, conventionally understood as the beginning of the liberation period, I also occasionally move outside this time frame to chart the prehistories and aftermaths of each author’s relation to queer identity and celebrity. My argument is sustained by the insights of celebrity studies that, as David Marshall puts it, “the celebrity . . . is an embodiment of a discursive battleground on the norms of individuality and personality within a culture”; and that, as Robert van Krieken puts it, the celebrity helps “co-ordinat[e] the ideas, choices and actions of large numbers of people,” due to the exorbitant amount of attention she accrues.11 I contend that the careers of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal involved discursive struggles over the norms of sexual identity and the permissibility of varieties of sexual expressions and attitudes that were played out in audience relations to their work and personas.

As is probably already apparent, my approach to these authors is in some ways quite sociological in spirit. Drawing on a wide range of work from the thriving field of celebrity studies—which concentrates on culture industries such as Hollywood cinema, TV, and popular music—I situate the fame of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal not only as the outgrowth of their particular achievements but also in relation to large forces of mediatization, commodification, and identity formation.12 I balance this account with an awareness of the specificities of literary celebrity, an increasing focus of scholarship over the past few years, elaborated in studies that range from the beginnings of commodified literary fame in the eighteenth century to modern and contemporary contexts.13 My promiscuous engagement with celebrity scholarship, taking up its diverse insights on a need-to-know basis as I move from one author to the next, is appropriate to the topic of celebrity itself. Opposing the tendency of many scholars to oversimplify celebrity by “labeling it either fully participatory or thoroughly manufactured, radically democratic or incipiently fascist, blasphemously secular or the newest expression of religious impulses, a rallying point for individualism or the imposition of mindless conformity,” Sharon Marcus contends that celebrity is “always all these things: its omnivorousness is how and why it works.”14 With regard to mid-twentieth-century literary celebrity in particular, we can say that it is both a phenomenon of the impersonal machinery of mass media and publicity and directly connected to what Loren Glass calls “individual authorial consciousness.”15

In Authors, Inc: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, a work dealing with the period directly relevant to Categorically Famous, Glass argues that the emphasis on individual authorial consciousness complicates “the easy dismissal of the celebrity’s subjectivity” in celebrity studies scholarship that attends to the culture industries.16 Glass suggests that modern literary celebrity is qualitatively different from culture industry celebrity, in that even though literary celebrities participate in media outlets such as TV and mass-circulation magazines, they also sustain “an ethos of individual creative production over and against the rise of these culture industries.”17 In tandem with or cued by Glass, other work on literary celebrity has elaborated the interpenetration of the ethos of authorial creativity and celebrity status, conceiving of “the structure of mass-mediated celebrity [as] a formal problematic” of works by celebrity authors, “not simply a condition of their reception.”18 Thus, various scholars have argued that the stylistic individualism of twentieth-century literary celebrities is simultaneously an inscription of subjectivity and a unique selling point in the marketplace of commodified personhood.19 In Categorically Famous I synthesize these insights of literary celebrity scholars with Michel Foucault’s contention about the centrality of sexuality to modern subjectivity. I argue that it is the expression of “individual authorial consciousness” that explains the preoccupation with same-sexuality in the work of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal. In this respect, I also draw on Edward Said’s richly suggestive discussion of the modern authorial career. Said argues that from the late nineteenth century a cultural emphasis on individualism, as well as dramatic changes in the literary marketplace, displaces the “ritual progress” of the poetic vocation, forcing writers to produce “aboriginal,” self-managed careers.20 The resultant “tyrannical domination” of the literary career means that “even the writer’s personal life . . . [becomes] matter for the writing project”; no clear distinction between authorial subjectivity and literary output remains.21 I understand this principle to apply as much to Sontag’s famously “impersonal” essays as to Baldwin’s obviously autobiographical novel Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (to make an indicative contrast), though the obviousness of the “confession” of sexual interest varies significantly depending on genre and mode.22

It is the tight reticulation of subjectivity, sexuality, and literature that in my view makes exemplars of literary fame especially germane to a discussion of the relations between celebrity and politicized gay consciousness before the 1970s. In Categorically Famous, I follow Henry Abelove and Jeff Solomon in arguing for the impact of literature on gay liberation, contending that, as Solomon argues of Truman Capote and Gertrude Stein, “the work and persons” of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal “served as essential influences on gay and proto-gay men and women before and after Stonewall, and were highly significant to the gay and lesbian rights movement as a whole.”23 Certainly there is no such connection evident in the case of culture industry celebrities, such as closeted Hollywood stars.24 And famous literary authors had much more effect in this regard than, say, famous art-world figures such as Jasper Johns or even Andy Warhol, who may have worked with homosexual meaning but whose medium of expression allowed for more distance between that meaning and their public personas.25 In any case, with the rule-proving exception of Warhol, the art world received much less media coverage in this period than literature. As many have observed, the postwar period up to around 1975 still accorded literature—and literary celebrity—significant authority, in ways that seem quaint in our current dispensation, in which literature has been absorbed into the leveling generality of “postmodern” cultural production.26 Additionally, literature’s exemplification and enablement of sexual frankness in the public sphere during the 1960s need to be connected to the legal challenges to obscenity that took place during the decade. These were not confined to cases of print media, but literature furnished many of the most prominent objects of contestation, with the decade seeing key legal decisions in favor of publishers of texts such as John Cleland’s eighteenth-century pornographic novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and twentieth-century novels such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.27 Less “literary” print media works also played an important part in the censorship battles, with the Supreme Court decision in Manual Enterprises v. Day (1962) in favor of H. Lynn Womack, a publisher of gay pulp books and physique magazines, proving particularly enabling for explicitly homoerotic publications.28 The net effect was an increase in the sexual license of print media (which already had greater license than media such as Hollywood film and TV). The essays and fiction of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal, which were both celebrated and excoriated for their sexual frankness, both benefited from and contributed to the increasingly sexualized public sphere that the censorship battles helped make possible.

If Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal had ambivalent relations to sexual identity categories, their relations to celebrity were similarly vexed. All three authors were apprenticed in midcentury liberal intellectual culture, which adopted an oppositional stance toward the mass media that generates celebrity; in the case of each author, however, this stance was tempered by other investments and interests. Thus, Baldwin to some extent embraced his celebrity as a means of communicating his deeply felt views (about race, art, and sexuality) to a large audience and as a due reward for his struggle as an African American writer from unpromising beginnings; yet he was also often severely critical of celebrity culture, and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is an early entry in the subgenre of late twentieth-century novels engaging in fictionalized meditations on the Faustian bargain that celebrity supposedly constitutes for the literary author. Vidal’s attitudes were less tortured and of a piece with his carefully cultivated “aristocratic” stance of aloofness toward bourgeois earnestness. One of his repeated quips was that he was a third-generation celebrity, and in many ways he reveled in his fame; yet, like Baldwin, he cast a jaundiced eye on the mass media and its putatively stupefying effects on the American populace. His masterpiece Myra Breckinridge (1968), the subject of Chapter 5, is a brilliant satire of celebrity culture, among other things, even as it is animated by Vidal’s own fannish relation to 1940s Hollywood and its stars. Of the three authors I discuss, Sontag was the most stringently critical of the mass media and its forms of fame. Notwithstanding her “with-it” celebration of popular and unsanctioned cultural forms—such as camp and science-fiction film—Sontag steadfastly eschewed any self-critical relation to her own iconic media image, disavowing any association with “pop celebrity.”29

Categorically Famous argues, however, that just as all three authors were unable to manage their association with homosexuality, so they were unable to manage their celebrity.30 This claim is not simply meant to point out a parallel. Rather, I contend that the figures of the homosexual and the celebrity are brought into strange intimacy in the immediate preliberation era of the 1960s. In these two figures, the always fraught relations between the nonetheless crucial cultural categories of public and private come into focus. If celebrity status is premised on the presumptive access of a mass audience to a public figure’s private life, homosexuality for much of the postwar period was generally seen by both sympathetic and unsympathetic commentators as a personal or private matter, the public discussion of which should be minimal at best. During the 1960s, however, increasing media coverage of homosexuality, particularly of urban gay male subcultures, worked against this repressiveness. Categorically Famous places the work of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal in this context, arguing that what Joe Moran would call the “intertextual nature” of their celebrity—that is, the interlocking components of their works and their media images—contributed importantly to the making public of homosexuality that helped consolidate gay men and lesbians as a politicized minority.31

But why these three writers? There were other equally famous queer writers of this period who undoubtedly affected public conceptions of and attitudes toward homosexuality, for good and for ill. Tennessee Williams and the already-mentioned Truman Capote spring to mind; or Allen Ginsberg, exceptional among the writers so far named in that he openly declared his homosexual identification before Stonewall. I contend that the grouping of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal is a productive one with which to parse the relations between literary celebrity and gay politics because of their common, if individually complex, association with the notion of sexual liberation and because of the way in which that association entailed debate about what should be publicly permissible in terms of sexual representations and identities. In my view the careers of Capote and Williams do not yield the same kind of public sphere effects—which is not at all to say that they were cowed in their representations or their celebrity performances of queerness.32 Ginsberg, by contrast, along with the other Beats and Beat-influenced writers like John Rechy, was invested in the putative outlawry of homosexuality, positioning it as an abject-yet-celebrated oppositionality; his 1960s work shows little interest in the idea of collective queer emancipation—though he was an early enthusiast for the radical gay cause in the immediate post-Stonewall moment.33

I don’t suggest that Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal in any way straightforwardly endorsed sexual liberation or gay liberation. Each writer in fact had important reservations about, or was openly critical of, these ideas; but their work also, in some cases inadvertently, richly elaborates possibilities of sexual liberation in general and homosexual emancipation in particular. I outline the specificities of each author’s relation to these possibilities in the chapters that follow, but I need here to indicate what I mean by “sexual liberation.” Throughout this book I use the term fairly loosely, to describe the assumption that the derepression of certain aspects of sexuality will have social and political benefits. I also use the terms “gay/lesbian liberation,” or just “liberation,” to indicate both the growing sense of the necessity and desirability of collective homosexual emancipation throughout the 1960s, as well as the social and political developments of the immediate post-Stonewall moment. My use of these terms is in some ways retrospective, as I occasionally use the words and ideas of gay liberationists of the 1970s to reflect on writing from the 1960s, but it also responds to contemporaneous ideas about the sexual revolution that were widely circulated in the media during the 1960s, as I outline in the next section. In one respect, importantly, my deployment of “liberation” is unusual and perhaps counterintuitive, in that while I give credit to its utopian inflection as an idea, I am more interested in its actual world-changing effects than its status as a desire. In this, as will become apparent, my account of liberation contrasts with a more thoroughly utopian tendency within queer theory, which, for all its rhetorical forcefulness and influence within the humanities, has changed little in the wider world of social relations.


1. Seinfeld, “The Cheever Letters,” directed by Tom Cherones, written by Larry David, Elaine Pope, and Tom Leopold, episode 8, season 4, NBC, 28 October 1992.

2. Susan Cheever, Home before Dark: A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter (1984; repr., New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999); John Cheever, The Journals of John Cheever, ed. Robert Gottlieb (1991; repr., New York: Vintage, 2008); John Cheever, The Letters of John Cheever, ed. Benjamin Cheever (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).

3. Seinfeld, “The Smelly Car,” directed by Tom Cherones, written by Larry David and Peter Mehlman, episode 21, season 4, NBC, 15 April 1993. It is revealed that Susan’s lesbianism “didn’t take” in “The Engagement,” directed by Andy Ackerman, written by Larry David, episode 1, season 7, NBC, 21 September 1995.

4. Geoff Dyer, review of The Journals of John Cheever, by John Cheever, The Guardian, 21 October 2009, The quoted phrases appear in Cheever, Journals, 344, 349–50.

5. Barry Reay, New York Hustlers: Masculinity and Sex in Modern America (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2010), 178.

6. My use of the terms “queer studies” and “queer theory” in this book is informed by but also differs slightly from that of Robyn Wiegman in Object Lessons (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012). While I find useful her account of “queer studies” as “the interdisciplinary frame for work that shares no specific theoretical preference or priority but is defined more generally as a critical project shaped by antinormative critical intentions” (305n7), I also assume that “queer theory,” a body of work generally informed by or elaborated as literary and critical theory, has been the forcing house of many or most of those antinormative intentions. For this reason, I find it less important than Wiegman, in her account of the institutionalization and “normalization” of queer studies, to differentiate between the two entities.

7. For scholarship that decisively indicates the meaningfulness of homosexual identity for many men and women with same-sex orientations by midcentury, see, e.g., Craig M. Loftin, Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America (New York: State University of New York Press, 2012); Martin Meeker, Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s–1970s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). It’s true that effeminacy was a vexed issue for many midcentury gay men who endorsed a gender-conformist image of homosexuality—as was butchness for some lesbians. But the preliberation debates over effeminacy—charted, for instance, by Loftin in his analysis of letters to the homophile ONE magazine—indicate precisely the narrowing of the gap between normative masculinity and homosexual identity that in Reay’s argument is put off until the 1970s. That Cheever’s two statements come from 1978, by which time the liberationist tropes of pride and social oppression had considerable cultural traction, actually supports one of the points I make in this book about the impact of liberation discourse on those who officially reject it. Voicing sentiments entirely compatible with liberation discourse, Cheever indicates the interpellative force of that discourse for many who experienced what Reay calls “same-sex cravings” (New York Hustlers, 178).

8. Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 2nd ed. (London: Sage, 2014), 8.

9. The appropriateness of “the closet” as a rubric for the investigation of same-sexuality during the preliberation period has, however, been challenged on the grounds of anachronism; see, e.g., Loftin, Masked, 10–11; Michael Sherry, Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 105–9. I discuss this challenge in Chapter 3.

10. In her underappreciated study Entertaining Lesbians: Celebrity, Sexuality, and Self-Invention (New York: Routledge, 2003), Martha Gever argues that the category of the lesbian celebrity is “oxymoronic, nonsensical” (7) before the 1990s when figures such as Martina Navratilova and Ellen DeGeneres publicly came out; it is no doubt significant that talk about Sontag’s lesbianism became noisier during this decade, when there was a media appetite for such stories. For Gever, famous figures such as Gertrude Stein or Radclyffe Hall do not qualify as “lesbian celebrities” because there was no public coming out involved; the very idea of “coming out of the closet” is anachronistic in the preliberation period. I agree with the broad terms of Gever’s analysis but would argue that Stein and Hall might indeed be read as proto-lesbian celebrities; for a reading of Stein in precisely these terms, see Jeff Solomon, So Famous and So Gay: The Fabulous Potency of Truman Capote and Gertrude Stein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017). That famous queer female writers (apart from Sontag) are conspicuously missing from the midcentury period is an interesting issue that doubtless has multiple determinations, including the general exclusion of women from literary celebrity in an era that privileged stridently masculinist writers (John Updike, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth).

11. P. David Marshall, Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 65; Robert van Krieken, Celebrity Society (London: Routledge), 56.

12. Following some key early contributions on film stars—e.g., Edgar Morin, The Stars, trans. Richard Howard (1957; repr., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); Richard Dyer, Stars (London: BFI, 1979), and Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (London: Macmillan, 1987)—the field of celebrity studies gained momentum in the late 1990s. The field’s current vitality is indicated by the foundation of the journal Celebrity Studies in 2010.

13. On literary celebrity, the eighteenth century, and Romanticism, see, e.g., Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 17501850, ed. Tom Mole (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). On the nineteenth century, see, e.g., Eric Eisner, Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Literary Celebrity (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Brenda Weber, Women and Literary Celebrity in the Nineteenth Century: The Transatlantic Production of Fame and Gender (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012). Along with the studies I mention elsewhere, an important contribution on the modern and contemporary situation is James F. English and John Frow, “Literary Authorship and Celebrity Culture,” in A Concise Companion to Contemporary British Fiction, ed. James F. English (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 39–57. The consolidation of celebrity as a focus of study for literary critics is indicated in “Celebrity, Fame, Notoriety,” ed. Joseph A. Boone and Nancy J. Vickers, special issue, PMLA 126, no. 4 (2011).

14. Sharon Marcus, “Salomé!! Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and the Drama of Celebrity,” PMLA 126, no. 4 (2011): 1001.

15. Loren Glass, Authors, Inc.: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, 18801980 (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 4.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., 3.

18. Eisner, Nineteenth-Century Poetry, 15, quoted in Clara Tuite, Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), xix.

19. I am thinking here particularly of Aaron Jaffe’s identification of the unique style of the modernist author as the imprimatur and Jonathan Goldman’s identification of the same as the trademark. See Aaron Jaffe, Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Jonathan Goldman, Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011). While Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal miss the boat historically as far as the usual definition of modernism goes, they enact the modernist imperative of the distinctive individual style, as I demonstrate in this book. In this respect they fit the profile of what David Genter defines as “late modernism.” See David Genter, Late Modernism: Art, Culture, and Politics in Cold War America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010); Genter in fact devotes a chapter to Baldwin.

20. Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 226, 227. See also Guy Davidson and Nicola Evans, “Introduction: Brilliant Careers?,” in Literary Careers in the Modern Era, ed. Guy Davidson and Nicola Evans (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 1–16.

21. Said, Beginnings, 234. Though Said admits that his exemplars of the modern literary career (including Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, and Stéphane Mallarmé) are “exaggerated” in their obsessive, even self-destructive relations to the writing life, his choice of authors, in their extremity, helpfully brings into relief the common experience of the overlap between the personal life and literary output experienced by the twentieth-century author.

22. It’s notable that Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal were all, to their chagrin, commonly thought of as better essayists than novelists, and throughout Categorically Famous I attend closely to each author’s essayistic output, even when my focus is a work of fiction. The 1960s was a period of significant innovation in what has come to be known as creative nonfiction, most notably in the New Journalism, which highlighted the authorial response to the real-life situation being described. While the essays of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal are at some distance in their materials and methods from this work, their indirect references to personal, particularly sexual, experience, nevertheless bear some affinity with the openness regarding authorial affect for which New Journalism is noted.

23. Solomon, So Famous, 21. Henry Abelove, in Deep Gossip (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), argues specifically that a group of writers including Baldwin, Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, and Jane and Paul Bowles were “enormously productive” for the New York Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and “significantly contributed to the development of its outlook and values” (73) by providing a “rhetoric for connecting queerness to decolonization and its struggles” (80). I follow Solomon in expanding Abelove’s argument about “writing as a productive force” (72) past the GLF to the gay and lesbian liberation movement more generally. Abelove identifies awareness of decolonization as a common feature of the writers he examines, all of whom lived outside the United States for considerable periods of time; and while such awareness does not figure as a concern in Categorically Famous, it is worth noting that, like Baldwin, Vidal and Sontag were cosmopolitan in outlook and lived abroad at various times (Vidal lived in Italy for many years, Sontag in France in the late 1950s, Baldwin in Turkey and France for much of the postwar period). In each case these experiences of and orientations toward non-American contexts were importantly related to these writers’ attitudes toward same-sexuality, with each testifying to the liberatory aspect of their European experiences.

24. On Hollywood, see David Ehrenstein, Open Secret: Gay Hollywood, 19281998 (New York: William Morrow, 1998); and on lesbian Hollywood specifically, see Gever, Entertaining Lesbians, chap. 5.

25. See, however, Gavin Butt’s excellent discussion of midcentury visual art, gossip, and queer identity, Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 19481963 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005). The now extensive body of scholarly work on Warhol as queer or gay was initiated by Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley, and José Esteban Muñoz, eds., Pop Out: Queer Warhol (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). For an important reassessment of Warhol in terms of celibacy rather than same-sexuality, see Benjamin Kahan, Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), chap. 5.

26. In Authors, Inc., Glass argues that the “cultural authority” of masculinist literary celebrity, arising out of the dialectic of mass culture and modernism, is “greatly diminished in scale and scope” in the era after second-wave feminism and postmodernism (197), and he makes a case that Norman Mailer is “the last celebrity author,” who “ballasted his mass cultural fame in a model of masculine modernist genius that was, by the post-World War II era, clearly residual” (177). While conceding that today celebrity “remains a crucial ingredient in the marketing of books” (199), Glass contends that literary celebrity has lost its capacity for cultural cut-through. Although the outline of Glass’s argument is compelling, it can be nuanced at the level of historical detail and with regard to its gender emphasis. Indeed, in a later essay on the present-day celebrity of Philip Roth, Glass himself states that his earlier position on Mailer’s status was “premature”; in this essay, Glass also notes the gendered bias of much of literary celebrity studies, including his earlier book. See Loren Glass, “Zuckerman/Roth: Literary Celebrity between Two Deaths,” PMLA 129, no. 2 (2014): 224. Cited by Glass, Faye Hammill, Women, Celebrity, and Literary Culture between the Wars (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), and Weber, Women and Literary Celebrity, usefully complicate the emphasis on male literary celebrity in their attention to middlebrow and popular women writers who attained great fame during their lifetimes but who have been neglected by scholarship.

On the decline of literature’s cultural authority, see also Marcie Frank, How to Be an Intellectual in the Age of TV: The Lessons of Gore Vidal (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005). Noting that Vidal once explained to an interviewer that in 1990s America “one can be famous and a novelist but not famous as a novelist” (2), Frank situates Vidal as the author who most “ably negotiated” (18) the shift in cultural dominance from print to TV during the postwar era. In “‘Just a Couple of Fags: Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Celebrity Feud,” Celebrity Studies 7 (2016): 299–308, I argue that media coverage of the decades-long rivalry between Capote and Vidal demonstrates the continuing, but decreasing, importance of individual authorial consciousness from the 1940s to the 1970s, as matters of literary style and merit were displaced as objects of public attention by the two authors’ entertaining media personalities.

27. For an illuminating account of these battles, see Loren Glass, Counterculture Colophon: Grove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), chap. 3. Glass notes that “censorship of the printed word in the United States essentially ended in the 1960s” (101).

28. Whitney Strub, “Historicizing Pulp: Gay Male Pulp and the Narrativization of Queer Cultural History,” in 1960s Gay Pulp Fiction: The Misplaced Heritage, ed. Drewey Wayne Gunn and Jaime Harker (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 55.

29. Richard Bernstein, “Susan Sontag, as Image and Herself,” New York Times, 26 January 1989,

30. That celebrity image is unmanageable by the celebritized person is a foundational point of celebrity studies: see, e.g., Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion), 10–11; and, in the literary context, Loren Glass’s discussion of Gertrude Stein, Authors, Inc., 1. Categorically Famous builds on this well-established point by factoring the ineluctability of sexual identity categories into the discussion of celebrity.

31. Joe Moran, Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America (London: Pluto, 2000), 19.

32. On Williams, see, e.g., David Savran, Communists, Cowboys and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992); Michael Paller, Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Broadway Drama (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). On Capote, see, e.g., Michael Bibler, “How to Love Your Local Homophobe: Southern Hospitality and the Unremarkable Queerness of Truman Capote’s ‘The Thanksgiving Visitor,’Modern Fiction Studies 58, no. 2 (2012): 284–307; Solomon, So Famous. While I agree with Solomon about the influence of Capote on a gay audience, I would argue that his work and his somewhat clownish persona present a more oblique relation to ideas of liberation than do the writers I examine here. Williams once proclaimed that he was the “founding father of the uncloseted gay world” (quoted in Paller, Gentlemen, 11), but if his work helped promote cultural awareness of homosexuality and homosexual self-awareness, he overstated here both his own openness (he announced his sexuality only after Stonewall) and the connection of his pre-1970s work to the subcultural expression of gayness; the latter is a key factor in the work of Baldwin, Sontag, and Vidal that I examine.

33. For an astute reading of Ginsberg’s distance, even after 1969, from the “liberationist’s demand to assert self-identity,” see Michael Trask, Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar America (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), 92–93; quote at 93. For a more positive assessment of Ginsberg’s relation to liberationist ideas, see John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 19401970, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 177–81.