The Gay Bachelor And The Bride

vintage illustration wedding guests and wedding cake 1940s

Vintage men’s fashion Ad Hart Shaffner & Marx 1948

Next to the waiter passing the champagne, my confirmed bachelor Great Uncle Harry was the most sought after man at a mid-century wedding.

Vivacious and gay with wavy hair the color of honey, lush black eyelashes shading come hither eyes, those of the female persuasion were drawn to him like bees to honey.

With his manly physique achieved through vigorous exercise taken at NYC’s Westside YMCA, he cut a fine figure of a man.

From the 1920s through the late 1960s, it seemed as if Harry was more prized than the tossed bridal bouquet, as bachelor girls elbowed their way through the guests to feed Harry a piece of the wedding cake,

The single gals wistfully eyed the tiny plaster figurines of the bride and groom atop the cake with envy and hope imagining the day when their own likeness would adorn the top of their own butter cream cake.

After all a wedding cake was as American as apple pie; marriage the first step in achieving the American dream.

Oh, Johnny, Oh!

The thing of it was, Harry’s come hither eyes were not directed at the bevy of beauties beating each other off for his attention….his baby blues batted more often than not at the best man, not the comely bridesmaids.

vintage illustration unintentionally gay men 1950s

After a brief, disastrous attempt at marriage in the early 1930s to an older widow who kept him in style and all the Beatrice Lilly Theater tickets he could ever want, he hung up his top hat and vowed never to walk down that aisle again.

Ironically weddings and brides were to occupy a great deal of his time and energy.

He eventually lost track of how many carnations he would wear as an usher, or how many times he stood as best man, as one by one his pals wed, leaving him solo at the altar.

Friends thought him picky at best, an odd man out in a world geared to the married set.

It was chalked up to his artistic temperament.

vintage illustration 1940s brides

Vintage Camay Soap Ads (L) 1947 (R) 1949

Always a Bridesmaid, Never A Bride

An accomplished artist, he worked at a large Madison Avenue Ad agency as an illustrator, specializing in painting fresh-faced brides, the kind that graced countless soap and shampoo ads in the 1940s and 1950s.

Financially comfortable, he nonetheless shared his small Central Park West apartment with a roommate for over 40 years, a gentleman he referred to as his “dear friend” to whom he was unusually devoted.

The family rarely saw the roommate, even at family weddings, kept in the shadows of our lives.

We didn’t know enough to ask; Harry knew enough not to tell.

Confused, our family thought the whole arrangement rather queer.

Last Dance

The last time I saw my Uncle Harry was when I danced with him at my own wedding over 20 years ago.

By then his bedroom eyes had gone more droopy, his well-honed physique, shrunken. He barely remembered the over half a century of weddings he had charmed his way through, nor  the hundreds of dances with girls whose hopes he  had dashed.

By now there was a sadness to him, his gay spirit spent, at peace in the dark shadows.

Harry was born too early to witness a wedding cake topped by two grooms or a time when his come hither eyes would be able to gaze more openly to the possibilities that were denied him.


In this last week in June, the chance to be a June Bride may be closing but the window to become a bride or groom just got a whole lot wider. Bringing a breeze of fresh air into the traditional notion of marriage the US Supreme Court finally removed some of the barriers to Gay and Lesbians full participation in the American Dream.

Copyright (©) 20013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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  1. oh.

    what a beautiful, poignant post.

    truly moving.

    thank you for taking the time to write and remember and record.

    so important.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Model Bride and Illustrator Jon Whitcomb | Envisioning The American Dream

  3. Pingback: A Model June Bride and Jon Whitcomb | Envisioning The American Dream

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