Last month, Ken Burns’s documentary about the Roosevelts revealed that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, brokered secret meetings between her father and his one-time lover Lucy Mercer. Later, FDR’s devoted, much younger cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley moved into his house “to take care of him.” And Eleanor wrote love letters to her lady friend, Lorena Hickok—3,500 of them. Happily, Burns’s signature voiceover never uses such labels as lesbian, homosexual, bisexual or adulterer for any of the film’s larger-than-life characters.
It would have been easy for Burns, who subtitled his documentary “An Intimate History,” to stoop to sensationalism. But for the most part, his film presents little-known facts about one of America’s most beloved first families without melodrama. In those love letters, Eleanor writes of “Hick” that “life would be empty without her.” Years later, Eleanor lived with Dr. David Gurewitsch, who was nearly 20 years her junior. When he married, his wife moved in with them. Burns reveals much about these unusual living arrangements, but he declines to editorialize.
So too Bauer (pictured), a play by Lauren Gunderson that just wrapped at New York City’s 59E59 Theaters. Bauer dramatizes the life of Rudolf Bauer—one of the founders of the abstract art movement—and his wife Louise, who was originally his maid. In the play, Louise invites Hilla Rebay (Bauer’s former lover and muse) to help revitalize her husband’s interest in painting, sex and life. Gunderson’s play shuns familiar categories and designations, generating energy from its layering of unusual relationships.
Have Americans finally grown up? Is it possible we now realize that complicated people have complicated relationships, and sometimes—maybe even frequently—these relationships are non-sexual, or at least “post-sexual?” And if they are or were sexual, who cares? Extraordinary men and women seem to overcome burdens of age, class, gender and traditional arrangements and carry us with them into new dimensions of feeling.
These new depictions refreshingly ignore Freud and his tedious analysis of penis envy, oral fixations, Oedipus and Electra complexes. Such labels and explanations are reductionist and simplistic. Sometimes love is larger than any label, defying any explanation we can give. Love just is. And that is reason for celebration.
Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg