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Gay History – November 16, 1979: “BENT” Written by Martin Sherman Opens In London

Bent is a 1979 play written by Martin Sherman. that revolves around the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany, and takes place during and after the Night of the Long Knives  a purge that took place from June 30 to July 2, 1934. Chancellor Adolf Hitler, urged on by Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, ordered a series of political extrajudicial executions intended to consolidate his power and alleviate the concerns of the German military about the role of Ernst Röhm who Hitler allowed himself to be convinced was the homosexual and intended to stage a coup.

Röhm and some of his commanders spent the weekend of June 30 at a hotel in rural Bavaria. They spent the Saturday drinking heavily, and according to Wackerfuss, “at least two SA men paired off to enjoy each other’s company in private.” Early Sunday morning Hitler himself and an entourage of SS men arrived and arrested Röhm. They also found two other stormtroopers in bed together in another room, the high-ranking Edmund Heines and his 18-year-old driver. Heines was eventually shot, but the fate of the other is unknown.

The Plot:

Max, a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin, is at odds with his wealthy family because of his homosexuality. One evening, much to the resentment of his boyfriend Rudy, he brings home a handsome Sturmabteilung man. Unfortunately, it is the night that Hitler orders the assassination of the upper echelon of the Sturmabteilung corps, to consolidate his power. The Sturmabteilung man is discovered and killed by SS men in Max and Rudy’s apartment, and the two have to flee Berlin.

Max’s Uncle Freddie, who is also gay, but lives a more discreet life with rent boys to satisfy his desires, has organized new papers for Max to flee to France where homosexuality is legal, but Max refuses to leave his naïve boyfriend behind. As a result, Max and Rudy are found and arrested by the Gestapo and put on a train headed for Dachau concentration camp.

We will STOP here in case anyone out there is not familiar with the story.

In the original London 1979 Royal Court production, which later transferred to the West End, Ian McKellen played the role of  Max.

When BENT made it to America a year later the play featured Richard Gere as Max, David Marshall Grant as Rudy, James Remar as Wolf, Michael Gross as Greta, George Hall as Uncle Freddie, and the late actor David Dukes as Horst.

In 1997, Martin Sherman adapted Bent into a film of the same name, which was directed by Sean Mathias and starred: Clive Owen, Mick Jagger, and Ian McKellan from the original London production this time in the role of Uncle Freddy.

“Bent” tells a heartrending love story, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. If you have not seen I urge you to do so.

You can watch the trailer below.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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1 thought on “Gay History – November 16, 1979: “BENT” Written by Martin Sherman Opens In London”

  1. I’ll never forget Ian McKellen ‘ s actually shitting on stage during his performance run in BENT!!

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