The Torrid and Intriguing Tales of 10 Male Muses


English occultist Aleister Crowley’s reputation as the snarling cue ball-headed “Great Beast” has been shattered. A book of Crowley’s aching, lovelorn poems, inspired by his affair with female impersonator Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt, will be exhibited at the Olympia antiquarian book fair in London this month. “The verse is rather broken-backed, and vulgar where he is trying to be honest. But it was written at a time when he was feeling heartbroken and vulnerable and it does somehow humanize him,” rare book dealer Neil Pearson said of the poems. The dark libertine’s muse didn’t share his appreciation for esotericism, and the relationship ended abruptly — but Pollitt did inspire verses that included lines like, “My passion splashes out at last.” We also felt inspired — taking it upon ourselves to dig up the torrid and fascinating tales of ten male muses. The men whose lives helped shape the works of great painters, writers, and filmmakers often take a backseat to their female counterparts, but they are no less intriguing. Meet the inspiring friends and lovers of ten cultural luminaries.

Ninetto Davoli, muse of Pier Paolo Pasolini

Provocative filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini discovered frequent collaborator Ninetto Davoli at 15 years old and cast the jovial-faced teen in a non-speaking role in his documentary-style biblical retelling, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Davoli spoke about their first meeting in a 2013 interview:

Pasolini liked street actors because of their natural qualities. In me, he found the naturalness of the world he knew growing up. It wasn’t so much an ‘ability’ as it was that in these faces — including mine — he could see the story he wanted to describe. He could see the story in potential through these faces and he found a reality in them. He preferred imperfection.

The men eventually became lovers. Pasolini discovered the young star had a true talent for comedic acting, leading him to cast Davoli in his medieval fable The Hawks and the Sparrows, alongside Italy’s celebrated comedian Totò.

Their romantic relationship ended as Davoli came to terms with his desire for women, leaving Pasolini so he could marry and have children. The breakup sunk the director into a devastating depression. “I am insane with grief. Ninetto is finished. After almost nine years, there is no more Ninetto. I have lost the meaning of my life… Everything has collapsed around me,” Pasolini wrote. The men remained loyal companions, but Pasolini was never the same. Davoli became the subject of countless poems penned by the tortured director, many of which were written leading up to Davoli’s wedding.

Lord Alfred Douglas, muse of Oscar Wilde

The tempestuous affair between playwright and raconteur Oscar Wilde and socialite-poet Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas is the stuff of literary legend. Wilde indulged the spoiled Bosie’s decadent and reckless lifestyle, but beneath the flamboyant antics of their stormy relationship was an intense passion that drove Wilde. He created many of his greatest works during this time. “He understands me and my art, and loves both. I hope never to be separated from him,” Wilde once wrote of his muse.

After a series of breakups and makeups, the relationship came to an end when Wilde unsuccessfully sued Douglas’ father for libel (the Marquess publicly disapproved of their relationship, and “sodomy” was considered a crime). Bosie turned on Wilde during the trial, leading to the scribe’s two-year imprisonment. The men reunited after his release, to the consternation of many. “Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don’t understand us,” Wilde wrote. “I feel that it is only with you that I can do anything at all.” Soon, they parted ways due to their differences. The highlights of their union are captured in a vibrant series of love letters.

Neal Cassady, muse of the Beat Generation

The freewheeling travel companion of Jack Kerouac, whose adventures are recounted in the author’s On the Road, and the sometimes lover of Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady became a central figure in the Beat and counterculture movements. Cassady’s penchant for drugs, sex, and fast times made him a wellspring of inspiration for those bucking tradition — the ultimate symbol of American freedom.

Peter Orlovsky, muse of Allen Ginsberg

The decades-long romance between Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg started when Orlovsky was working as a painter’s model for Robert La Vigne in 1954. Ginsberg fell in love with La Vigne’s portrait — and soon after, the real-life subject. Ginsberg published his groundbreaking poem Howl (the controversial text openly celebrated homosexual love and eroticism) shortly after the men moved in together and deemed their union a marriage. “Allen needed someone to write to — whenever he wrote poetry, he was sort of writing with someone else’s ear in mind,” Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan explained. “A lot of times, it was Jack Kerouac; and at other times, it was Peter Orlovsky.” Their love letters reveal the deep bond and affection the men shared. “I’m making it all right here, but I miss you, your arms & nakedness & holding each other — life seems emptier without you, the soulwarmth isn’t around. . . .” Ginsberg once wrote to Orlovsky.

Charles Beach, muse of J. C. Leyendecker

Before Norman Rockwell’s scenes of chipper Americana were gracing the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, the homoerotic gazes of men in sharp suits were plastered across its pages. Preeminent American commercial artist J. C. Leyendecker produced hundreds of illustrations for the publication using his live-in companion Charles Beach as his model — particularly for a character who became known as the Arrow Collar Man. Like creations born from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, the men shared a decadent lifestyle that embodied the Roaring Twenties spirit, hosting fabulous parties and important social galas at their posh estate in New Rochelle, New York. The romance was officially a secret, but Leyendecker’s lover was front-page news with every illustration.

Joe Dallesandro, muse of Andy Warhol

Gay icon and underground film superstar Joe Dallesandro met Andy Warhol when the pop art maven was shooting his 1967 movie Four Stars. The striking young man captured Warhol’s attention, and the artist cast him in the film. “In my movies, everyone’s in love with Joe Dallesandro,” Warhol later stated. The Warhol-produced Flesh won Dallesandro mainstream attention in 1968, spurring a film career for the once troubled boy from Queens. A frequent figure in the films of Paul Morrissey (including Morrissey’s Warhol trilogy, now a cult favorite), many would say Dallesandro was actually a Morrissey muse, but the actor’s Factory status keeps the spotlight firmly planted on Andy. Dallesandro has been immortalized in the works of Factory friend Lou Reed who wrote of the star in “Walk on the Wild Side.” He also graced album covers for The Rolling Stones and The Smiths.

Jacques de Bascher, muse of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent

Alicia Drake’s The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent and Glorious Excess in 1970’s Paris details the exploits of one of fashion’s most decadent periods. The two figures at the center of it all were Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld — opposites and rivals who shared a few obsessions. One of their preoccupations included dandy socialite Jacques de Bascher — who held a long-term relationship with Lagerfeld until his death in 1989. De Bascher’s affair with YSL fueled the unrest between the designers, but the impish “It” boy muse remained a complex symbol of fascination for both men.

George Dyer, muse of Francis Bacon

It’s said that Bacon met lover and model George Dyer when the young man was breaking into the artist’s home. Their mutual afflictions (alcohol, namely) brought them closer, but Dyer’s erratic behavior caused many a scene (including an incident in which Dyer planted marijuana in Bacon’s flat and called the police). Dyer appeared in numerous Bacon paintings during the mid 1960s — artworks that revealed their complicated and ultimately tragic romance. Bacon’s Triptych, May–June 1973 commemorates Dyer’s 1971 suicide on the eve of the artist’s retrospective at Paris’s Grand Palais. The loss of his muse haunted Bacon for the rest of his life.

Divine, muse of John Waters

“I wanted him to be the Godzilla of drag queens,” maverick director John Waters said of outrageous muse Divine (aka Harris Milstead). The knockout star of Waters’ satirical cult hits Pink Flamingos, Polyester, and Hair Spray, Divine (the famous moniker was a gift from Waters) met the filmmaker at high school in Baltimore and rose to fame as an international icon of bad-taste cinema. “Divine is so incredible to work with, because she won’t balk at anything,” Waters once gushed.

The Fair Youth, muse of Shakespeare

There has been much speculation surrounding the identity of the “Fair Youth” in Shakespeare’s sonnets — many of which broach the subject of love and relationships. The unnamed young man addressed in sonnets 1 to 126 (Mr. W. H.) is often thought to be a pseudonym for Shakespeare’s one-time patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Later patron William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke is another name often bandied about. “It is fair to say that some of the sonnets to the Fair Youth are unabashedly homoerotic, others display a wistful, unrequited sensuality, rather like that of Aschenbach for Tadzio in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice,” The Guardian’s William Boyd writes, further detailing the “disturbingly passionate and fraught love triangle” between the Bard and his sonnet characters.