Fait Diver: Follow the Fleet

Yes it’s “Fleet Week” once again. And y’all know what that means, don’t you?

“Since 1984, New York City has held Fleet Week to honor the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The week features extensive military demonstrations, as well as the opportunity for the public to tour some of the visiting ships. The Memorial Day commemoration is a highlight of the week’s festivities, featuring the singing of Taps and a military aircraft fly over in honor of those who lost their lives in service to the United States.
What Is There To Do During Fleet Week?:
Tour visiting ships
watch the parade of ships in the harbor
watch competitions, including tug of war and eating contests
Memorial Day ceremony
musical performances by sailors and marines”

And plenty of seafood for those who know that sailors often ask but never tell. The great Paul Cadmus certainly knew, which is why he created his most infamous work


To whit –

“When the topic of government censorship of art is discussed, frequently the story of the painting by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Paul Cadmus entitled “The Fleet’s In!” is told. The fact that it was removed from an exhibit of WPA art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1934 is well known, but what happened to it afterwards is not. The following chronology is intended to provide background on this painting’s very significant place in American art history.
1934: “The Fleet’s In!” is painted by Paul Cadmus, an artist working for the Public Works of Art Project. The PWAP is combined into the WPA. The painting is selected by the WPA for inclusion in a show of PWAP art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The exhibition opens with the painting included. Following the publication of an adverse letter to the editor in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) and subsequent outcry, Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson orders Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry Latrobe Roosevelt to remove the painting from the show. It is either confined to H. L. Roosevelt’s home, the “Navy Department brig,” or the Secretary of the Navy’s bathroom (depending on which story you believe).
1935(6?): When Assistant SecNav H. L. Roosevelt becomes ill, he has the painting sent
to the Alibi Club, before his death in February 1936.
1944: The painting is the inspiration for Jerome Robbin’s ballet “Fancy Free.”
1980: A group interested in mounting a Cadmus retrospective threatens to sue the Alibi Club unless the painting is returned to public hands. The Navy takes title to the painting, though it may have remained at the Club on loan for a time.

1981: The Navy has the painting, now in poor condition, restored.

1982: The painting circulates to three or four venues in a Cadmus retrospective. It is the first public exhibition of the painting since 1934.

1983-1985: The painting spends some time in storage, but by 1985 it is on public exhibit at The Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, except when it is on loan to other museums.
1993: Female visitors to The Navy Museum on two separate occasions complained that the painting depicts sexual harassment.

1994: After returning from a loan, the painting is hung at the Navy Art Gallery, Washington Navy Yard, where, unless it is on loan, it is on public display.”

It’s a far cry from Cadmus and his most deliciously homoerotic.


But then the great man was primarily a satirist and he really hit the bullseye with “The Fleet’s In.” It inspired Jerome Robbins to create something much gentler

But it’s savagery was what was doubtless on Louis B. Mayer’s mind when he got all upset over On the Town — nearly cancelling the entire project and only managing to dump much of the Bernstein score, in favor of songs Comden & Green fashioned with resident Freed Unit genius Roger Edens. Of course Roger was as gay as Lenny, but more discreet — and under contract.

“Fleet Week” also brings to mind The Soldiers and Sailors Monument — one of my favorite New York cruising spots back in the day.


The first scene from the great Parting Glances was shot there — though THIS scene from that one-shot classic is my fave:

Never ran into any sailors at “Solders and Sailors.” But one memorable night in The Rambles of Central Park I met a sailor whose manner — and body — forever burns in memory. Let’s put it this way — he liked to watch, and be watched. Ah what a night! Balmy. The moon shining brightly. Inhibitions thrown to the winds, for it was well before The Plague Years. Why I felt just like Harriet Hilliard when she was gobsmacked by sailor boy Randolph Scott in Follow the Fleet

Whatever happened to you Dennis? If you’re still among carbon-based life forms let me throw you a cyber-kiss. Oh, if I could turn back time. . .

Which reminds me — it’s the birthday of someone who really knows how to treat a sailor.

Sing us out, Cher!

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