On August 21, 1978, a year before his seventieth birthday, Samuel Steward (1909–93) sat down at his typewriter in Berkeley, California, and began to compose a remarkable autobiography. No one but his closest friends knew the many different identities he had performed during his life: as Samuel Steward, he had been a popular university professor of English; as Phil Sparrow, an accomplished tattoo artist; as Ward Stames, John McAndrews, and Donald Bishop, a prolific essayist in the first European gay magazines; as Phil Andros, the author of a series of popular pornographic gay novels during the 1960s and 1970s. Steward had also moved in the circles of Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, and Alfred Kinsey, among many other notable figures of the twentieth century. And, as a compulsive record keeper, he had maintained a meticulous card-file index throughout his life that documented his 4,500 sexual encounters with more than 800 men.
The story of this life would undoubtedly have been a sensation if it had reached publication. But after finishing a 110,000-word draft in 1979, Steward lost interest in the project and subsequently published only a slim volume of selections from his manuscript.
In The Lost Autobiography of Samuel Steward, Jeremy Mulderig has integrated Steward’s truncated published text with the text of the original manuscript to create the first extended version of Steward’s autobiography to appear in print—the first sensational, fascinating, and ultimately enlightening story of his many lives told in his own words. The product of a rigorous line-by-line comparison of these two sources and a thoughtful editing of their contents, Mulderig’s thoroughly annotated text is more complete and coherent than either source alone while also remaining faithful to Steward’s style and voice, to his engaging self-deprecation and his droll sense of humor. Compellingly readable and often unexpectedly funny, this newly discovered story of a gay life full of wildly improbable—but nonetheless true—events is destined to become a landmark queer autobiography from the twentieth century.
Samuel Steward (1909–93) was an English professor, a tattoo artist for the Hells Angels, a sexual adventurer who shared the considerable scope of his experiences with Alfred Kinsey, and a prolific writer whose publications ranged from scholarly articles to gay erotica (the latter appearing under the pen name Phil Andros). Perhaps his oddest authorial role was as a monthly contributor between 1944 and 1949 to the Illinois Dental Journal, an obscure trade publication for dentists, where writing as Philip Sparrow he produced a series of charming, richly allusive, and often quirky essays on a wildly eclectic assortment of topics.
In Philip Sparrow Tells All, Jeremy Mulderig has collected thirty of these engaging but forgotten columns, prefacing them with revealing introductions that relate the essays to people and events in Steward’s life and to the intellectual and cultural contexts in which he wrote during the 1940s. In these essays we encounter such famous friends of Steward as Gertrude Stein, André Gide, and Thornton Wilder. We hear of his stint as a holiday sales clerk at Marshall Field’s (where he met and seduced fellow employee Rock Hudson), of his roles as an opera and ballet extra in hilariously shoddy costumes, of his hoarding tendencies, his disappointment with the drabness of men’s fashions, and his dread of turning forty. We go along with him to a bodybuilding competition and a pet cemetery, and together we wander the boulevards of Paris and the alleys of Algiers. Throughout, Mulderig’s entertaining annotations explain the essays’ wide-ranging allusions and also highlight their gay subtext, which constituted a kind of private game that Steward played with his mostly oblivious audience of Midwestern dentists.
The first collection of any of Samuel Steward’s writings to be republished since his death in 1993, Philip Sparrow Tells All makes these lost essays available to a broad readership that Steward imagined but never actually enjoyed when he wrote them. In doing so, it takes a major step toward documenting his important place in twentieth-century gay literature and history.