Artist Spotlight: Victor Gadino

Victor Gadino took a risk illustrating the covers for Gordon Merrick's ground-breaking gay love stories. It paid off well.

BY Christopher Harrity

September 17 2011 4:00 AM ET

About Gordon Merrick:

Gordon Merrick | Advocate.comIf Barbara Cartland and Jacqueline Susann had a gay love child, it would be Gordon Merrick. His life — privileged upbringing, Princeton, Broadway actor, journalist, counterespionage officer, and finally world-renowned author of the first gay romances — was like that of one of his characters.

As a young, wealthy, and unbelievably gorgeous young man, Merrick dropped out of Princeton from boredom and hit Broadway to become an actor. After getting roles in top Broadway hits (The Man Who Came to Dinner) he quit ... from boredom. It was too repetitive.

He wrote his first best seller, Strumpet Wind, which contained some references to homosexuality, and this gave him the seed money to start writing his more directly gay romance novels. It also allowed him to live all over the world: Mexico, the island of Hydra in Greece, and finally, Sri Lanka.

The book he is best known for, The Lord Won’t Mind, sat on the New York Times best-seller list for 16 weeks — in 1970! The first in a trilogy, Merrick followed it up with One for the Gods in 1971 and Forth Into Light in 1974. His style is overblown and dramatically romantic. His continuing characters — Charlie and Peter — are both exquisitely good-looking, perfectly muscular, and enormously endowed. And blond. And rich.

Merrick broke new ground with these books. These were not the tortured, gay-man-dies-for-his-sins books of the 1950s. These men had rampant sex and these books had happy endings — but not without operatic turmoil first. And then there were the covers painted by Victor Gadino. There was nothing coy or shady about these covers — they matched the current vogue in paperback covers for other romance novels, pout for pout, but they featured a male couple.

Merrick's writing was criticized as shallow and looks-obsessed. He defended his writing by saying that the desire for male beauty was a core value in being a gay man. But looking critically at his work is missing the point. His books are deliriously fun and deeply campy — the way only things that take themselves too seriously can be. If you scour the used-book stalls you may find some of the reissues Alyson Books came out with in the 1990s. 

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