Sal's Guy

By Luongo, Michael | Out, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Sal's Guy


Luongo, Michael, Out


MY FATHER RAGED AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS-EXCEPTFORONE.

All my life, old images of my father had been hidden away, kept in closets, wrapped under cloth.

As a child, I caught a glimpse of one of the most unusual images, taken when my father was very young, seducing the camera with anintense,broodinggaze.Afirstgeneration Italian-American who grew up in Italian slums near Newark, N. J., Anthony Luongo was devilishly handsome as a youth, a slick hybrid of Rudolph Valentino, Al Pacino, and Andy Garcia. The image was shot during World War II just before my father was drafted at 19. It was common then to colorize black and white images, but this was different. The cheeks were pink, the eyes highlighted as if with blue eye shadow; the overall appearance bordered on feminine. My mother hated it, banishing the photo to the closet, but I always felt a strange, strong connection to it. Years later, I would know why.

My father never knew I was gay, not officially, and we spent my adult life dodging the issue. He was not a nice man; medieval, not conservative, would best describe his views. Being gay, he made it clear, would lead to my expulsion from the family. Yet, once, he tried to trick me into coming out, using this photograph and its origins as the ploy.

The portrait was shot by Sal Terracina, a man who was openly gay long before it was common. He was a Renaissance man who painted, photographed, sang, worked in theater, and had a radio show, achieving fame in Little Italics throughout New York and New Jersey. Sal aggressivelypursued myfather, wantingto photograph him, just as he had photographed hundreds of other young men, many wearing almost nothing at all.

I wasn't sure what was more astonishing: this rare conversation, or that Sal was openly gay in the macho world of 1940s Italian immigrants. My father's answer was simply, "He had talent, so we could overlook these things," as he gazed into the pastel-tinted image of himself, taken more than a half century earlier. …

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