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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,091 ratings  ·  165 reviews

Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, The Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret

Hardcover, First Edition, 496 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Charles Dee Mitchell
In 1926, when he was 17 years old, Samuel Steward learned that Rudolph Valentino was checked into a downtown Columbus, Ohio, hotel under his real name, Rudolph Guglielmi. Already an avid autograph hound, Steward went to Valentino's hotel room, knocked on the door, got the autograph, gave the silent film star a blow job, and took home a snippet of his pubic hair. He kept the hair all his life in a monstrance bought at an antique store. That object now resides in a private collection in Rome.

Not m
Last night, as I was thinking about my own career trajectory (or lack thereof), I read this line--

'whatever his previous failures as a literary novelist and man of letters, he might yet establish himself as a brilliant writer of homosexual smut.'

--and giggled to myself as I thought, 'That's what I want to do when I grow up!'

Samuel Steward was a fascinating man. It boggles the mind that his life could have stayed an obscure footnote in the biographies of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas or appe
May 14, 2013 Dana rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: gay
I don't generally read biographies, so I have nothing to compare this to, but it seemed a little too much like a re-telling of all Steward's sexual exploits without enough historical context or details about his life outside of his sexual encounters. I do realize that was the most significant thing in his life, but it wasn't the only thing. I would've liked to know more about his teaching, for one, or his friendship with Emmy, which spanned decades but was only mentioned in passing.
Interesting for its historical perspective on the life of a gay man in America from the 1920s through the 1980s. Steward spent 20 years as a professor at Loyola, then De Paul, universities. He left academia in his late forties to pursue a second career as a tattoo artist. Steward was a compulsive record keeper and diarist. His first-hand accounts of same sex interactions in the markedly diverse socio-economic worlds in which he moved, all of which were pre-Stonewall, were intriguing to read. Bey ...more
Sam Steward is a fascinating guy. He's like Zelig - always miraculously involved with interesting people from Gertrude Stein to Alfred Kinsey to Sonny Barger. By the way, Sam Steward is most definitely a real person, even if you never heard of him before. Unlike any other pre-Stonewall personality I know, Steward's life really opened up previously undescribed worlds of homosexual communities, of tattooing, of pornography; all which he scholarly documented and detailed articulately .

The reason I
Tex Reader
3.0 of 5 stars – Detailed, Sad Study of One "Homosexual's" Life.

I am a fan of the gay history and experience, and for that this is a laudable record by Justin Spring of Sam Steward's life (aka Phil Sparrow-tattoo artist, Phil Andros-porn author), just as Steward's own writings were a unique and valuable documentation of his sex life and fantasies.

Spring's work is well-researched. While covering now familiar ground about the gay experience in the early to mid-1900's, this account of one "homosexu
ugh.. I try very hard not to judge people when it does to their sex lives. As long as they aren't hurting anyone (that is not in on the hurting), to each his own. However, when you have a sex life that is far outside the norm, both in quantity and subversiveness, and then proceed to judge others, you open yourself up. This dude had so much sex: S&M, anonymous, water sports. Anything you can think of, he did it. Which is not my thing, but if it made him happy, great. However, he made constant ...more
While this may be too salacious for some, it's really an interesting read about a fascinating life. I particularly enjoyed the interweaving of all of the significant literary characters of the day, Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, Oscar Wilde, et al, and it brought me back to my college studies. Also mentioned numerous times was my favorite subject I wrote about in college: Sylvia Beach and her famous Parisian bookshop, Shakespeare and Co., frequented by all of these expats. This time period has ...more
Drawn from the diaries, journals, letters and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, this biography is a reconstruction of one of the most bizarre lives in modern gay culture.

An introvert English professor by day, sexual renegade by night, Steward was an intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder. He also claims to have had sexual relations with a number of famous, or soon-to-be-famous, men, including Rudolph Valentino and
An Exceptional Book on Many Levels,

Reading SECRET HISTORIAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMUEL STEWARD, PROFESSOR, TATTOO ARTISTS, AND SEXUAL RENEGADE it is difficult to decide which is the more important - learning about a rather phenomenal man (Samuel Steward) whose life to date has been a well-guarded secret, or discovering one of the finest biographers writing today - Justin Spring. Spring is a seasoned biographer whose publications include 'Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude', 'Fairfield Porter: A Life
Karen Taylor
Wow, what an amazing life, and an essential for folks interested in LGBT or leather history.

Justin Spring does a great job of letting Samuel Steward speak for himself through his letters and writings. I'm glad he does: Steward is a brilliant writer: witty, imaginative, erudite and far-reaching in his interests and his network of friends. HIs dedication to sex and sex-recording is fascinating and provided Dr. Kinsey with a wealth of information that continues to have an impact on our culture tod
This book is meticulously researched and documented, and the writing itself is great but about a third of the way through it I began to ask myself why. The title and summary lead you to believe it is about a man with ideas ahead of his time who is involved with some of the 20th Century's most notable artists and transgressors (Kinsey, Gertrude Stein, Cocteau...) and that's not exactly true. While there are parts of the book that are about his involvement with these people,especially Stein, Tokla ...more
Patrick Santana
Jul 04, 2013 Patrick Santana rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: gay men, queer historians
Recommended to Patrick by: jon barrett
There's a lot of fascinating material here in Spring's thorough examination of Sam Steward's life. Steward kept copious notes, journals, and photographs of his sexual adventures dating all the way back to the 1930s (Errol Flynn among them). Not only does the book give you a glimpse into this almost-lost world of gay life in the dark period of the 1930-1950s, but you also get this secondary layer of all the intersections of gay literati took place. Steward was friends with Getrude Stein, Alice To ...more
Joey Manley
Sam Steward, the subject of this biography, had sex with a lot of people, and documented every encounter on 3x5 index cards. The running count comes to a little under 1000. Some of those people were famous, like the masterful Rudolph Valentino (whose pubic hair Steward saved and incorporated into a mantelpiece trophy he made for himself), the odious Lord Alfred Douglas (Steward wanted his mouth "to go where Oscar's had gone," only to learn later that "Bosie" and Wilde had only mostly given each ...more
Jim Coughenour
I knew I was going to enjoy this biography from its first page. Spring writes, "I first came across Steward's name in the gay pulp fiction archive and database at the John Hay Special Collections Library at Brown University..." The gay pulp fiction archive?! Immediately readers know they're in for a ride.

Samuel Steward (aka Donald Bishop, Thomas Cave, John McAndrews, Phil Sparrow, Ward Stames, Phil Andros) was a poet, novelist, Catholic English professor, tattoo artist, gay pornographer, friend
About a third of the way through this 400 page biography I was wondering why it was voted by both and the NYTimes as being one of the best non-fiction works of 2011. I was bored. But on reflection, and through the final third I "got it".

This is a meticulously crafted look at an extraordinary man, who history had seemed to forgotten. His story is both affirming and tragic. A definite must for those interested in the hidden life history of the educated gay male , beginning in the early
Extraordinary. Indispensable. Steward crossed paths with an enviable and astonishing array of literary celebrity, participated in a nearly unbelievable number of sexual encounters, and lived fascinating careers in academia, "tattoodling," and writing. I am thankful to Justin Spring for saving this man's life from obscurity. Born in 1909 and dead just a day shy of 1994, the evidence from his letters and writings paints a portrait that dispels the perceived victimology of gay men during this perio ...more
A remarkable world that Samuel Steward lived in. A collage professor turned tattoo artist who also happened to be a great sex adventurer - Justin Spring really captures the underground world of Gay sexuality and life in the 20th Century. But for that we have to be thankful for Steward's zeal for keeping track on all his sexual adventures. Steward built up an erotic museum of sorts - and this gentleman of pleasure is a wonderful figure in Gay social history. Essential read for anyone who is inter ...more
I did not know who Sam Steward was, but I was familiar with his nom de plume, Phil Andros. Having just previously finished the biography of E.M. Forster (1879-1970), I found it quite interesting to find that Steward (1909-1993) had encountered some of the same people as Forster: most notably Alfred Kinsey and George Platt Lynes. They both lived through the repression and backlash that faced gays in the forties and fifties, but were still alive post-Stonewall. It is also striking how similar toda ...more
Every once and awhile I'm lucky enough to stumble on a book that proves an absolutely unexpected pleasure! I owe Books Inc at Opera place for this one. Secret Historian is an almost unbelievably unlikely story. It's a near
miracle Justin Spring was able to find the treasure trove of sexual history that was Samuel Steward's collection - and his life. I had never heard of him and now it's hard to imagine the sexual revolution without him. Steward is proof - admittedly amazingly flamboyant and over
Thoroughly researched non-fiction about a pre-Stonewall queer. Pretty amazing insight into a time and a way of being gay that was absolutely trailblazing. I also liked the author's construction of 20th century gay life as not simply being pre or post stonewall, but also pre or post Kinsey or pre or post McCarthy or related to the world wars.

Very sad too. Samuel Steward did not lead a very happy life.
A look at someone who truly lived life according to his own times when it was very difficult to do so. Moving, arousing, astonishing, and unputdownable, this book chronicles one of the 20th century's most fascinating lives.
So refreshing to read the biography of a sex positive person without moralization. And also to read the story of someone who did not shy away from sex but still struggled with identity and the homosexual ideals. Samuel Steward is not at first glance a hero- but to live ones life in the way one feels most drawn to- to look at that life with unflinching honesty and evaluation is a pretty heroic thing, especially through the times he lived. I really appreciated the candid exploration and the honest ...more
Andy White
This type of book is symbolic of the wonderful serendipity that a public library offers. I happened upon this strange engrossing book while going about my day at the library. I must caution that it is very graphic. It is the true story of an unknown person who happened to cross paths with some very famous people in Chicago. I found this very engrossing. It is gossipy, graphic look at the life of a gay man in a time when being gay was a serious crime. Recommended highly with the warning that this ...more
Martin Turnbull
Although at 400 pages, perhaps a little overlong and overly notated, this biography is nonetheless a well-told account of a gay man who lived a uniquely interesting life that took him from the Paris salons of Gertrude Stein to Midwest Catholic colleges to skid row tattoo parlors of Chicago and an Oakland ruled by the Hell’s Angels and Black Panthers. If you’re looking to learn about real life of a regular 20th century gay man with a fascinating bent to document his life with startling detail, th ...more
This was a difficult read at times, but I'm glad I read it. (Isn't that one definition of a classic?) The book ties together a whole lot of history, starting in 1909 and ending in 1993. Steward's life spans growing up in rural America in the twenties to the Parisian literary scene of the thirties, his mentorship by Gertrude Stein and his friendship with Alice B. Toklas, the changing sense of what it was to be a gay man as America entered McCarthyism and conflated homosexuality with Communism, hi ...more
A well written and fascinating biography about academic turned tattooist turned pulp porn author Samuel M. Steward/Phil Sparrow. The biography is partially based on Steward's secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals and sexual records and reads as a sensational reconstruction of his hidden sex life. Steward was an intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder. He also considered Alfred Kinsey a mentor and worked closely with him on his landmark sex research. Don Ed H ...more
I admire what the author has done: taken an obscure figure from the twentieth century literary scene, someone who aspired to but never achieved recognition as a writer, and revealed a whole other side of the subject's life. Samuel Steward ran in literary circles, wrote some mediocre fiction, and established fairly close friendships with Thornton Wilder and Gertrude Stein. He professed to loathe his career as a college instructor in Chicago, yet it seems that he was a gifted teacher who regaled h ...more
Joey Diamond
Wow Sam Steward is an amazing bio subject. His life was long, packed with sex (including with Rudolph Valentino) interesting life choices (gave up being a professor to be a tattoo artist in the 1950s), celebrities (Stein and Toklas) and really well documented, as Steward was a diarist, hoarder and archivist of homosexual life.

So this is a great and gripping book but the author, Justin Spring, kept pissing me off with his obsession with Steward's ageing and his weirdly old fashioned moralizing a
Sep 20, 2012 Spotsalots added it
Shelves: biography
As with Susie Bright's memoir, I had been meaning to read this, so it was lucky chance that the two books were relatively near one another in the library shelving. In this case, I didn't know a great deal about Samuel Steward ahead of time beyond that he had been a writer, tattoo artist, and kept detailed records of his sex life.

This is a carefully researched book and an interesting one. Steward's many-faceted life (friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; Kinsey contributor; tattooist to t
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Gay fiction/non-f...: Secret Historian - Biography of Samuel Steward 1 10 Aug 18, 2011 09:52AM  
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Justin Spring is a New York based writer specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture. He is the author of many monographs, catalogs, museum publications, and books, including the biography Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art (Yale University Press, 2000) and Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude (Universe, 2002). He has been the recipient of a number of grants, fellowships, and awards, including a ...more
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“Man’s chase after happiness is a feverish and unceasing thing. As we grow older, we search more frantically for it than formerly—and it can be found no longer. “If I were just as happy now as I was then,” we say, and sigh. But the truth is that few men have more to their account than a dozen hours of happiness—a fragment here and there out of the dull and sullen roll of life…How much happier man would be were he only to realize that a state of unhappiness or frustration or despair is the usual thing, the lot of nearly all men nearly all of the time! The frenetic reachings would cease, the compulsions disappear, the nervous chase smooth itself into a serene and contented acceptance.” 0 likes
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