Social norms change with each generation. That is just a simple fact; no matter how hard some try to cling to a past that was never really as rosy as the manufactured Norman Rockwell mementos place it. One key issue to this very day remains the stigma that homosexuals suffer with. Up until 1986, homosexuality was listed in psychologist’s main reference guide the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” as a mental illness.
Hollywood, a land of liberal views, made it a point in the 90’s to take up the cause of the gay community. Suddenly we had movies with America’s everyman, Tom Hanks, playing a gay man afflicted with AIDS. Ellen Degeneres scored big ratings by coming out on her prime time sitcom, Will and Grace became part of Must See TV, and so on…
The imputation of a family member being homosexual could at one point be a major source of embarrassment. Such was the case of Antony Baekeland, the son of wealthy American social butterflies, Brooks and Barbara. Barbara, born in 1922, had been a cover model for Vogue and other magazines. She and her husband lived the life of Riley together, throwing lavish parties full of booze and debauchery. Both Brooks and Barbara committed adultery numerous times on each other during this period.
Barbara suffered from mental instability, a hidden flaw inside of a woman with a beautiful exterior. Her parents had both showed evidence of having similar problems, as her father committed suicide and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown prior to Barbara’s birth. The mental breakdowns Barbara suffered from helped strain her marriage, as she would become unstable and verbally abusive, sometimes ending with a suicide threat or attempt.
The couple had a son together, named Antony, and he too would grow up showing the telltale signs of mental illness, including schizophrenic behavior. As he became an adult, Antony pursued a bisexual lifestyle. He became involved with a man named Cooper. His mother pushed for him to instead go after a gal named Sylvie who was romantically involved with Antony from time to time. The situation got even more complicated when Brooks began to have an affair with his son’s suitor, Sylvie. Barbara became aware of the affair in early 1968 and it drove her to once again attempt to take her own life. Brooks’ response was to finally rid himself of his wife as he filed for divorce. Antony moved in with his mother in the aftermath of all this.
Barbara decided she was going to “fix” Antony’s homosexual leanings and she attempted to do so by hiring a series of prostitutes to seduce her son. His homophile ways continued unabated. Rumors have long abounded that Barbara then took it upon herself to try and “cure” her son. The innuendo claims that Barbara actually convinced her son to engage in a series of incestual sexual encounters while the pair spent the summer of 1969 alone in a paradise like setting. The mother and son shared pot and alcohol in between romps. Barbara proudly told her friends of the physical intimacy, and they were horrified. Nonetheless, the plan failed to end Antony’s homosexual behavior. The forbidden sex continued sporadically when the family returned to the United States.
Barbara was convinced that Antony was a misunderstood genius, and looked the other way as he pursued artistic efforts that revealed images of his mother being killed by horrible methods. Her friends tried to warn her of his clear mental issues, but Barbara spent months avoiding doing anything until Anthony finally had a breakdown that could not be ignored, coming home one evening in a state of manic delusion. This led to a brief stay at a mental health clinic, but that was cut short when Brooks decided that psychology was “mumbo jumbo” and his son was simply evil. Brooks then cut off Barbara from money that would have gone towards their son’s care.
The crazed behavior did not stop. Antony beat his mother with a wooden stick one evening, and when her divorce lawyer attempted to step in, he was beaten too. Another time he attempted to blind her with a pen. Yet another incident saw Anthony interrupt his mother and a guest at their home – he was only wearing his briefs, and was brandishing a knife. He rambled incoherently and then vanished. He was often seen in a catatonic state, rocking silently. Brooks remained steadfast in not having his son taken to a hospital.
The family’s mental disorders finally came to a head in 1972. Antony attacked his mother as she arrived home one day. He ripped clumps of hair from Barbara’s scalp as he tried to drag her to the road in order for a vehicle to run her down. When his mother clung to a gate with all her might, he proceeded to smash her head into it time after time in an attempt to free her grip. Three bones cracked in her hand, but Barbara hung on. Antony ran back into the house and produced a carving knife. Only the appearance of a neighbor ended the rampage without further incident.
Then on November 12th, 1972 Antony and his mother got into an argument. He then took a kitchen knife to his mother’s chest and ended her life. By the time the police arrived on the scene, Antony was calmly attempting to order Chinese food over the phone.
Antony was sent to a mental hospital and he remained there for seven years. His father used his wealth and influence to have his son released. Antony was next taken to live with his maternal grandmother. That situation only lasted six days before Antony tired of his grandma’s “nagging” and stabbed her eight times. She survived.
Antony was finally sent to Rikers Island for mental assessment. He stayed in their psych ward for eight months before he was to have a court hearing over his possible release on bail. A delay in his medical records arriving caused the court to reschedule the date. This seemed to cause Antony great duress. He was returned to his cell. When he was next checked on thirty minutes later, the guard found him dead. He had suffocated himself with a plastic bag.
A movie was made of this sordid tale called “Savage Grace”. It does deviate from the truth from time to time, but the core of the story remains true to life.
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