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Wheeler, Monroe (1899-1988)  
 
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Publisher, book designer, and museum director, Monroe Wheeler is perhaps best known today for his leading position in New York's artistic and gay communities of the 1950s and 1960s, with his partner of sixty-eight years, the writer Glenway Wescott.

Although they were not physically monogamous--for example, some eight years into their relationship, the two men met the photographer George Platt Lynes and accommodated him into their lives for the next seventeen years--Wheeler and Wescott never waivered from their commitment to each other and enjoyed one of the longest gay "marriages" in glbtq history.

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Monroe Lathrop Wheeler was born on February 13, 1899, in Chicago, Illinois, the first son of a prosperous fish broker. Two years later the family moved to Evanston, an affluent suburb of Chicago.

The Wheeler family enjoyed Chicago's thriving cultural scene, and interest in the arts was strongly encouraged. Wheeler, with his family, regularly attended concerts, operas, poetry readings, and art exhibits.

His father, Fred Monroe Wheeler, was an avid bibliophile who collected books and made his own book bindings, as well as a skillful artist who helped establish the Businessmen's Art Club of Chicago, enthusiasms he evidently passed on to his son.

On his eighteenth birthday, instead of the motorcycle he had hoped for, Wheeler received a small, but expensive, printing press from his parents. He subsequently developed a love for typography, layout, and fine art printing, pursuits he would later turn into a career.

Despite his interest in books and learning, Wheeler was an unexceptional student, and after completing his secondary education, refused to attend college, much to his parents' disappointment. Instead, he lied about his age and found a job as a copywriter in a prestigious Chicago advertising agency.

In early 1919, at a meeting of the University of Chicago's prestigious Poetry Club, the strikingly handsome and elegantly well-dressed, twenty-year-old Wheeler met and fell in love with freshman student, and newly-elected president of the Poetry Club, Glenway Wescott (1901-1987), then seventeen years old.

In an interview given late in his life, Wescott recalled, "Monroe was more beautiful than the sun . . . and radiantly joyous. His personality expressed that everything was the best it could possibly be and everything was just around the corner, and the arts were the only thing that mattered on earth."

The two men embarked on an openly romantic relationship during a time when the practice was far from safe legally or acceptable socially. Wheeler encouraged Wescott both to pursue a vocation as a writer and to accept his homosexuality without apology.

The men created a life together that lasted sixty-eight years.

Early in their relationship, Wheeler convinced Wescott that they could live more freely and comfortably, as both artists and homosexuals, in Europe than in the American Midwest. Consequently, in the fall of 1921, with their personal savings and invaluable letters of introduction provided by Harriet Monroe, founder of the influential journal Poetry, the two men relocated to Europe.

Moving first to England and then to France, Wheeler and Wescott, both physically attractive and loquaciously social, had little trouble meeting and making friends with such writers and artists as Ford Maddox Ford, Isadora Duncan, and Jean Cocteau.

While both men were considered witty and memorable conversationalists, with a fondness for social gossip, Wheeler was particularly remembered as a perceptive and observant storyteller. The writer and journalist Janet Flanner, also living in Paris during this time, said of Wheeler: "[He] has an excellent raconteur's mind, memory, vocabulary and tongue, brings in a story just at the right time, in the right manner, serves his anecdotes perfectly either piping hot or ice-cold as tragedies . . . . The bases of his success with people are the nourishing quality of his enthusiasms and his connected recollections in conversation."

In 1926, some eight years into his relationship with Wescott, Wheeler met eighteen-year-old George Platt Lynes (1907-1955), a minister's son from East Orange, New Jersey, sent to France by his parents to prepare him for college.

Wheeler immediately became infatuated with the young man. Instead of causing a rift between Wescott and Wheeler, however, Lynes was accommodated into their relationship for the next seventeen years, with the three men often sharing the same home.

As Wescott biographer Jerry Rosco noted of Lynes, "[His] intimacy was generally with Wheeler, and occasionally with Wescott. . . . From the start, their threesome was daring, original and unpredictable."

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