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Garland, as well as Connie Francis, Lana Turner and Susan Hayward, epitomized the idea that "suffering was the price of glamor...[and] the women stars of the [1950s] reflected the condition of many gay men: they suffered, beautifully".

In Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, author Lawrence J.

A gay icon is a public figure (historical or present) who is embraced by many within lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

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a Christian saint and martyr, whose combination of strong and shirtless physique, symbolic arrow-pierced flesh and rapturous look of pain have intrigued artists, both gay and straight, for centuries and began the first explicitly gay cult in the nineteenth century. Kaye wrote, "Contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of a tortured closet case." The name was also used by Oscar Wilde—as Sebastian Melmoth—when in exile after his release from prison.

Wilde, an Irish writer and poet, was about as "out of the closet" as was possible for the late 19th century, and is himself considered to be a gay icon. Rumors about her relationships with women circulated in pornographic detail by anti-royalist pamphlets before the French Revolution.

For example, Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas—who reached her peak in the 1950s—became a gay icon because the uniquely compelling qualities of her stage performances were allied to a tempestuous private life, a sequence of unhappy love affairs, and a lonely premature death in Paris after her voice had deserted her.

Lesbian icons, sometimes called "dykons" (a portmanteau of the words "dyke" and "icon") are most often powerful women who are, or are rumored to be, lesbian or bisexual.

Rivers gained a strong gay following after performing in Greenwich Village, an LGBT friendly area of New York, from the early days of her career.

Rivers' frank and sharp use of wit and insults (largely turned toward herself) made her an instant gay icon.

Quirk explains that Crawford appealed to gay men because they sympathized with her struggle for success, in both the entertainment industry and in her personal life.

Though Crawford had been a notable film star during the 1930s and 1940s, according to David Bret, author of Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr, it was not until her 1953 film Torch Song that she was seen as a "complete gay icon, primarily because it was shot in color." Bret explains that seeing the actress' red hair, dark eyes and "Victory Red" lips linked her to "gaydom's other sirens: Dietrich, Garland, Bankhead, Piaf, and new recruits Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas." Actress Lucille Ball was also a prominent icon from this period.

In Victorian England, biographers who idealized the Ancien Régime made a point of denying the rumours, but at the same time romanticised Marie Antoinette's "sisterly" friendship with the Princesse de Lamballe as—in the words of an 1858 biography—one of the "rare and great loves that Providence unites in death." Allusions to her appearance were made in early 20th century lesbian literature—most notably Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness—where the gay playwright Jonathan Brockett describes Marie Antoinette and de Lamballe as "poor souls...

sick to death of the subterfuge and pretenses." She had crossover appeal as a gay icon, as well, at least for French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist Jean Genet, who was fascinated by her story.

In Lee Tannen's book I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball, the author describes his experience when he witnessed Lucille Ball being labeled a gay icon for the first time by a mutual friend.

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