GLR September-October 2022

eye and plucked eyebrows, O’Montis was shown in poses that suggested ef feminacy (Fig. 2). Baldness aside, he bears a striking resemblance to Peter Lorre’s Joel Cairo in The Maltese Fal con (Fig. 3). O’Montis himself liked to say that he was “beloved of elderly ladies and young gentlemen,” which serves as the title for Raber’s biography. For all this, O’Montis kept his pri vate life private. Court documents reveal that he probably had liaisons with his piano accompanists Teddy Sinclair (born Theodor Jakob Schmidt) and Franz Hasl. Much of the time he seems to have taken up with working-class youths and hus tlers, whose easy availability in Weimar Berlin is attested by Christopher Isher wood’s memoirs. This would ultimately lead to the singer’s downfall.

Figures 2 and 3. Two drawings of O’Montis by Key, 1932 and 1931.

propriate snatches of hackneyed music. However, O’Montis was distinguished above all by a racy reliance on what we would call “camp.” Although he had to be careful not to offend against the 1927 “Gesetz zur Bewahrung der Jugend vor Schund- und Schmutzschriften” (Law to Protect Youth against Obscene and Filthy Writing), a measure similar to our present-day legislation against queer and transgender texts, he managed to permeate both his lyrics and his delivery with equivocal messages. The lyric for his earliest recorded hit goes:

The notorious Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which criminalized sex between men, was still in force, but had been something of a dead letter under the Weimar Republic. No sooner had the Nazis come to power in 1933 than they began strictly enforcing it. An attack was launched against homosex ual bars and drag clubs. Beyond the disappearance of his fa vorite haunts, the closing of Jewish firms meant that O’Montis’ recording contracts were not honored. In December, while touring in Cologne (Fig. 4), he was ar rested and imprisoned, accused of “vilely” inducing two youths to “endure unnatural sex acts ,” language taken directly from Para graph 175. One of the alleged victims was reported to be a fif teen-year-old apprentice from a good Cologne family; the other, a year older, “came from another class” and “must be regarded as already corrupted.” O’Montis protested that the boys had ap proached him and no harm had been done, but the court regarded him as an “uninhibited person” who used “ingenious skill” in passing the teenagers on to “like-minded people.” O’Montis’ pri vate secretary was held as an accessory and a search of the

Was hast du für Gefühle, Moritz, Moritz, Moritz, Sind’s kühle oder schwüle, Moritz, Moritz, Moritz, Du sagst nicht Ja, du sagst nicht Nein, Du bist so fein, and doch gemein Du hast eine Herz für viele, Mortiz, Moritz, Moritz Du bist zu schön, um treu zu sein!

(What kind of feelings have you, Moritz./ Are they cool or warm, Moritz?/ You don’t say Yes, you don’t say No,/ You are so refined and yet so coarse/ You have a heart for many, Moritz/ You are too good-looking to be true!)

singer’s quarters turned up hundreds of let ters from youths throughout Germany. It was perhaps coincidental that O’Montis’ first encounter with the police came after the Nazi takeover, but the charges also included “making remarks insulting to members of the government and the national party,” calling the Reich ministers Ernst Röhm and Rudolf Hess gay, as well as dissuading the older boy from joining the naval branch of the Hitler Youth. (These were crimes that fell under the purview of the Gestapo.) O’Montis made a statement that he had never be longed to leftist parties and only repeated what he had heard. The political charges were more seri ous than the sexual ones. Male prostitution and homosexual activities with minors were not specifically made illegal until

The pun on schwül (warm) and schwul (gay) is too obvious to be missed. O’Montis later made a best-selling record camping up a hit from the operetta White Horse Inn (1930): “Was kann der Sigis mund dafür, daß er so schön ist?” (“How can Siggy help it if he’s so good-look ing?”) (Noel Coward’s “Mad about the Boy” is similarly equivocal. Originally it was written to be sung by a woman in a revue, but once Coward sang it himself in his nightclub act it became a gay anthem.) Via the air waves and the domestic Vic trola, O’Montis managed to inject sexual diversity and questionable gender into commercial pop. Caricatures and publicity photos made no secret of his effeteness. Impeccably dressed, with a monocle firmly in his left

Figure 4. O’Montis in Cologne, 1933.

The G & LR


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