Van Vechten was, at least for his time, outwardly if not quite flamboyantly gay and attached to a circle of young gay men he called the “jeunes gens assortis.” But Van Vechten neither bore a stigma nor shouldered a placard. Instead, he preferred a heterosexual domestic arrangement (and sometimes heterosexual sex) with the actress Fania Marinoff, who remained more or less by his side for fifty years.
In the 1920s, Van Vechten’s apartment, at 150 West 55th Street, became the headquarters of New York’s bibulous conviviality. George Gershwin couldn’t be moved from the piano (excepting one evening when Van Vechten wanted to play; the publisher Horace Liveright soon pushed “Carlo,” as friends called him, off the bench, breaking his shoulder in the process). Guzzling highproof bootleg whiskey, dancing the Charleston, and crossing the color line were the articles of faith at Van Vechten’s cabaret, where he suspended, according to White, “the byzantine rules of racial division that existed beyond his front door.” (Carlo might have been better off leaving some of those rules unsuspended. After one party, a drunken Bessie Smith mistook Fania’s theatrical parting kiss for a come-on and knocked her to the floor.) The raucous festivities could not have survived without the sound track. “Jazz may not be the last hope of American music, nor yet the best hope,” wrote Van Vechten in 1925. “At present, I am convinced, it is the only hope.”
Taken from Harper's Magazine