In response to my writing on the subject, my attention has been drawn to an article, “The Cowell-Ives Relationship: A New Look at Cowell’s Prison Years,” by Leta Miller and Rob Collins, in an issue of the excellent journal American Music (Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 2005), pp. 473-492) – don’t know how I missed it, since I receive the journal. The story has always been that, once Cowell was imprisoned in San Quentin from 1936 to 1940 on a homosexual morals charge, Ives was disgusted to learn about Cowell’s homosexuality, and cut off all contact with him. But at the 1997 Cowell Centennial conference in New York, a letter was exhibited, from Ives to Cowell in jail (in Ives’s own hand, which was exceptional for the time), expressing his warmest wishes and sympathy. Miller and Collins provide strong evidence to support what some of us suspected at the time: that it was Ives’s wife Harmony who was unsympathetic, not Ives. Since Ives’s health was so poor that Harmony handled all of his correspondence, coming and going, the story always got filtered through her statements to friends. In fact, however, on May 29, 1937, Cowell received a letter from Ives saying,
I’ve started to write you a few times or more, but didn’t because I didn’t know what to write or say or what to think or do – and I don’t now – so I’ll shut up! At least I can do all I can & I will to help New M[usic] Editions keep going as well as possible and as you would want…
I do hope you can keep well & that things will go well in the future.
In addition, Ives, not being able to satisfactorily communicate through Harmony, sent Cowell other supportive messages through mutual friends. Miller and Collins also quote a statement by Lou Harrison, who was openly gay during the years (1936-1950) he did musical work for Ives:
The problem of whether you were gay or not didn’t arise among the people that I was with. Ives was repressed but nonetheless he was a married man. [Yet] there was no problem. In fact that was the point I think that Ives made at the one luncheon I attended [with him]. Harmony was there and he, sitting off from the table, told me that when he was growing up, if you had anything to do with musicians it meant you were a sissy. Then he looked thoughtful and a little worried and said, “But all that seems to have changed now.”
I’m glad to know that Ives’s letter and messages are finally in the scholarly literature (thanks to Joe Barron for alerting me), and I hope we can now consider the story that Ives abandoned Cowell out of homophobia thoroughly debunked.