Ansel Elgort, the dreamy male lead in The Fault in our Stars, had been cast as popular 1950s pianist Van Cliburn, who won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition at age 23. An American embraced by the Russians, Van Cliburn was considered a hero for helping to soften American-Soviet relations at the height of the Cold War.
But he was also gay.
Unlike Liberace, though, he was what The New York Times called “discreet in his homosexuality.” He was a devout Baptist and active in the church for most of his life, regularly attending Fort Worth’s large Broadway Baptist Church. (Ironically, Broadway Baptist actually had its membership revoked by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 over its support of the LGBT community.)
He had a huge female audience—women always found him very attractive. He was sort of the perfect bachelor everyone wanted to marry. There were older women who simply fell at his feet.
There’s a story I’m told where an older female fan greeted him once and told him with tears, ‘You’ve made my life worth living.’ He took her hands in his and held her to him and said, ‘This is such a special moment in my life, you’ve touched my heart deeply.’
Back in the earlier years, I don’t think his audience would have even known what homosexuality was much less accepted it. It was a much different era.”
In the late 1990s, a former boyfriend tried to sue Van Cliburn, unsuccessfully, for palimony, putting his sexuality on display in the tabloids. He spent his final years with longtime partner Thomas Smith, before dying of bone cancer in 2013 at age 78.
Van Cliburn the film will be produced by Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen, the duo who produced Stars.