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Orphanos, Stathis (b.1940), and Sylvester, Ralph (b.1934)  
 
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Ralph Sylvester and Stathis Orphanos, booksellers and publishers operating as Sylvester & Orphanos, are partners in life as well as in business. They are best known for their beautiful, meticulously executed books, which are avidly collected by lovers of fine printing.

Their first book was a sumptuous edition of Christopher Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, issued in 1976. The next twenty-three books were printed letterpress in southern California, and their most recent, printed letterpress in Greece in 2004, is devoted to the work of the gay modern Greek artist Yannis Tsarouchis.

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Among the authors and contributors to the books published by Sylvester & Orphanos are many gay writers, artists, and composers.

In addition to being a bookseller and publisher, Stathis Orphanos is a writer and photographer, with distinct accomplishments in each of these four areas, which in his life have been interrelated. His photographs of numerous writers and artists include images of several who are gay. His male nudes and figure studies capture and appeal to gay men's desire.

The bulk of Orphanos's photography is portraits and includes images of his friends and mentors Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, as well as such distinguished figures as Claire Bloom, Paul Cadmus, David Hockney, Horst (Horst P. Horst), Graham Greene, and Julie Harris, among more than a hundred others. His photographs of young males, especially athletes and military men, have been filtered both by his gay sensibility and by his Greek heritage; they reveal the influence of a long tradition of male nudity in Greek statuary and vase painting.

Ralph Sylvester was born January 13, 1934, in Derry, Pennsylvania, of Italian descent. He came to California in 1956 when he was in the army and stationed at Fort Ord.

Stathis Orphanos was born October 12, 1940, in Greensboro, North Carolina, of Greek parents, both from the island of Samos. He was raised in Greece when trapped there by the outbreak of the civil war, which was fought between 1946 and 1949. He then attended Cheshire Academy, Connecticut, where he was exposed to same-sex romantic encounters.

In 1959 he attended Denison University, where he had his first serious affair. He then came to California and in the early 1960s attended California State College (now University), Los Angeles. Among his classes was one taught by Dorothy Parker. She praised both his photographs and his written sketches about Greece, but said, "You'll have to choose, honey, between photography and writing."

Sylvester and Orphanos met in 1960 in Los Angeles, where they continue to live. They now reside below the Hollywood sign in the Beachwood Canyon area of the city and also own a home in San Marcos, California. Orphanos also maintains family properties in Vathy, Samos, and now visits there annually.

The Sylvester & Orphanos bookselling business specializes in modern first editions of writers whose works have particularly interested Orphanos.

The publishing side of the Sylvester & Orphanos enterprise began with the memoir by Isherwood and has continued with works by writers such as John Cheever, James Merrill, and Gore Vidal.

These signed limited editions include work by two writers later to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Nadine Gordimer and V.S. Naipaul. Nobel laureate Odysseus Elytis contributed an essay to the volume on Tsarouchis.

Los Angeles illustrators, printers, and binders were used for all of the books except the Tsarouchis volume. Sylvester and Orphanos collaborate on the design of the bindings, with careful choice of cloth, cover papers, and blind stamping to complement the texts themselves.

There is gay content in the bawdy innuendo in Tennessee Williams's It Happened the Day the Sun Rose, set in Tangier, and in an episode in John Cheever's The Leaves, The Lion-fish, and the Bear.

Orphanos's photography of famous persons--mostly from the world of literature, art, theater, and film--began with his portrait of Isherwood in 1972, followed by more than a hundred others, starting in 1981. Many examples of these and his other works are found on www.glbtq.com and on Orphanos's own website, www.orphanos.com.

Orphanos observes that photography has given him the most rewards, both as work itself and as a means of meeting so many noted persons. His celebrity subjects have been primarily in the arts, and include Erskine Caldwell, Norman Mailer, and Sir Stephen Spender, as well as Nobel laureates Elytis and Naguib Mahfouz. He has also photographed many gay icons such as Mamie Van Doren and Lizabeth Scott.

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Top: A self-portrait by Stathis Orphanos.
Above: A portrait of Ralph Sylvester by Stathis Orphanos.

  
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