It seems so. [He] was so affectionless that his own family despaired of ever knowing him. His first bride, Irene O’Connor, divorced him in 1930 on grounds of “mental cruelty;” his second wife, Mary Barstow, was driven to alcoholism and finally the mental hospital by his remove. Only his third wife, Molly Punderson, whom he met when he was 65 and she 64, seems to have been a fit, and they slept in separate beds. “At last he had found his feminine ideal,” Solomon writes: “an elderly schoolteacher who was unlikely to make sexual demands on him.” American Mirror’s most controversial point will likely be Solomon’s conclusion that part of the sexless character of Rockwell’s oeuvre can be traced to his own repression, specifically the fact that he was attracted to men but unable to express it. While living in New [...], Rockwell forged an extremely intimate relationship with the Leyendecker brothers, famous illustrators who created the proto-metrosexual “Arrow Collar Man,” and were gay. Seeking therapy in the late ’50s, Rockwell apparently confessed to having “overly intense relationships” with men, though he was so reserved, even in his private correspondence, that it is hard to know what he meant by this. Piecing together the details of a two-week-long long fishing trip he took to Canada in 1934 with his handsome model and studio assistant, Fred Hildebrandt, Solomon comes to a suggestive dead end: The trip raises a complicated question: Was Rockwell homosexual? It depends on what you mean by the word. He demonstrated an intense need for emotional and physical closeness with men. From the viewpoint of twenty-first-century gender studies, a man who yearns for the company of men is considered homosexual, whether or not he has sex with other men. In Rockwell’s case, there is nothing to suggest that he had sex with men. The distinction between secret desires and frank sexual acts, though perhaps not crucial to theorists today, was certainly crucial to Rockwell.
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