Moon shorts 1a: Cosmé McMoon

A sidebar to the Moon family history in my 3/31 posting “Moon shorts 1: the Moons”, with the extraordinary character Cosmé McMoon, who was embodied (or realized) by the pianist and composer Cosmé McMunn (using the stage name Cosmé McMoon) and, in a 2016 movie, by the actor Simon Helberg:

(#1) Cosmé McMunn/McMoon with Florence Foster Jenkins (FFJ)

From Wikipedia:

Cosmé McMunn (February 22, 1901 – August 22, 1980), who used the name Cosmé McMoon, was an Irish-Mexican-American pianist and composer, best known as the accompanist to notably tone-deaf soprano Florence Foster Jenkins.

McMoon was born as Cosmé McMunn in 1901 in Mapimí, Mexico, the son of Maria (Valadez) and Cosme McMunn. His paternal grandparents were Irish and his mother was of Mexican descent. He moved with his family to San Antonio, Texas around 1911. He moved to New York City around 1920 to further his musical studies, and likely adopted the McMoon spelling around that time. Jenkins met McMoon in the late 1920s, and knowing McMoon was a concert pianist, eventually asked him to help her prepare for her performances and accompany her.

McMoon never ended up making a career in music after Jenkins’ death in 1944, and instead took an interest in bodybuilding and judging bodybuilding contests. He was a master chess player and was fascinated with mathematics. He resided in New York City until shortly before his death in August 1980. McMoon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and moved back to San Antonio, and died two days after arriving. His remains were cremated and his ashes rest at Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio. McMoon never married or had any children.

This looks like the brief biography of an artistically talented queer or perhaps an aspie, or (of course) both. (I see with pleasure that the slang Aspie / aspie ‘person with Asperberger’s syndrome’ has made it into NOAD.) The character Cosmé McMoon was/is flamboyantly, delightfully, gay, fully living up the promise in the name his fathers (Cosmo Topper and his husband George Kerby) chose for him: Cosmo for his natural father + soigné:

adj. soigné (feminine soignée …): dressed very elegantly; well groomed: she was dark, petite, and soignée. ORIGIN past participle of French soigner ‘take care of’, from soin ‘care’. (NOAD)

The first embodiment of Cosmé. But the Wikipedia entry is the life history of a person who embodied the character Cosmé, and many details of this person’s life are unclear. He  was, however, clearly an odd duck, entangled in a remarkable story of mutual self-delusion. On FFJ, from Wikipedia:

Florence Foster Jenkins (born Narcissa Florence Foster; July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American socialite and amateur soprano who was known and mocked for her flamboyant performance costumes and notably poor singing ability. The historian Stephen Pile ranked her “the world’s worst opera singer … No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.”

(#2) FFJ as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute

Despite (or perhaps because of) her technical incompetence, she became a prominent musical cult figure in New York City during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Cole Porter, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lily Pons, Sir Thomas Beecham, and other celebrities were fans. Enrico Caruso is said to have “regarded her with affection and respect”. The poet William Meredith wrote that what Jenkins provided “was never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience; it was chiefly immolatory, and Madame Jenkins was always eaten, in the end.”

(FFJ’s incompetence was earnest, passionate self-delusion, quite different from extraordinary performances by singers who manage to sing evenly off-key as a musical joke — Jo Stafford as “Darlene Edwards”, for example.)

Cosmé himself. From my posting on the Moons, which

Moon Moon and Alfie Moon were married in a fabulous ceremony on Fire Island; Moon Moon took Alfie’s name, becoming Moon Moon Moon (“You can never have too many moons in your life”, he quipped); and Alfie took on the role of adoptive father for Moon’s two sons from his days of coupling with women. The first boy, Moon, they renamed after his father … The second boy was already named Cosmo, after Moon I’s long-time fuck buddy Cosmo Topper

What I didn’t know when I wrote this was that Cosmo Topper, outwardly a respectable banker, married to a socialite, but secretly a lover of men, had also fathered a son, who he named — in a reciprocal practice attested among other men of a certain class (I’ve written elsewhere about thoroughbred racing associates Foxhall Alexander Daingerfield and James R. Keene and their sons James Keene Daingerfield and Foxhall Daingerfield Keene, respectively) — Cosmé (a fancified version of his own first name) McMoon (for Moon Moon Moon, Gaelicized to honor Moon I’s Irish ancestry, among the Mullinses). (Ok, not as perfectly reciprocal as the Daingerfield-Keene swap, but Moon named his son after Cosmo and Cosmo named his son after Moon.)

Cosmé’s mother was in fact Irish-Mexican, the product of a liaison between Cosmo, on vacation with his husband George in Cancún, and a Mexican housemaid, on a night when Cosmo found himself alone in their cabana while the younger George was out scoring Mexican street boys. (Technically, George was/is a ghost, but by then he had perfected the trick of materializing at will into a flesh-and-blood hombre.)

The strikingly handsome, fashionable, and enthusiastically versatile Cosmé was raised by his fathers in a beach house in Malibu, where he had easy access to the Pacific Coast Highway and the sex boulevards of LA (on the milieu, see my 4/1/17 posting “Hitchhiking” and my 3/26/17 posting “On the boulevard of broken dreams with Kip Noll”). He majored in Environmental Design at ArtCenter in Pasadena, helping to support himself there by working as a model for premium men’s underwear firms and escorting for select clients. While he is still young and desirable, he’s continuing this work — he has separate agents for modeling and escorting — but he’s using his earnings to bankroll what he discovered in college to be his true passion in life: window display design, especially for men’s fashion, as in this window he studied in school:

(#3) 201 2 window at the Topshop flagship store in Oxford Circus, London

Cosmé’s father Cosmo, by then separated from his wife Clara, nevertheless continued to work during the day at his own investment firm, in the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown LA; none of this was really necessary any more, he’d made enough money to keep up any lifestyle he wanted, but he found the rhythms of banking comfortable, the work quietly satisfying, so he kept to some part of his old routine.

Meanwhile, Cosmé’s father George had finagled a job at his old shop, Hal Roach Studios, writing on new series of Topper movies and tv shows; he, too, had no need for work — ghosts are pretty much self-sustaining, as it were — but he enjoyed both the challenge and the pleasant irony of writing new screen adventures for himself.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I need to refresh your memories of the world of Cosmo Topper.

The fateful movie of 1937. From Wikipedia about the 1937 film Topper, starring Constance Bennett (as Marion Kerby) and Cary Grant (as George Kerby) (there were sequels, plus a tv series, all enjoyable):

(#4) Topper and George, together for the first time

George (Cary Grant) and Marion (Constance Bennett) Kerby are as rich as they are irresponsible. When George wrecks their classy sports car, they wake up from the accident as ghosts. Realizing they aren’t in heaven or hell because they’ve never been responsible enough to do good deeds or bad ones, they decide that freeing their old friend Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) from his regimented lifestyle will be their ticket into heaven.
Topper, a wealthy bank president, is trapped in a boring job. Worse still, Clara (Billie Burke), his social-climbing wife, seems to care only about nagging him and presenting a respectable façade.

That’s the façade the comedy presents, but in fact both couples were a lesbian and a gay man in a marriage of convenience: Cosmo (an absurdly slutty bottom daddy) and Clara (a fiercely butch dyke), to maintain their veneer of respectability; preppy George (a versatile top) and lipstick lesbian Marion, out of friendship and a shared love of partying hard. Then Cosmo met George in the movie, and sparks flew. As soon as the Hal Roach cameras stopped rolling, they fucked like minks, right there on the set, everybody avert your eyes and stop up your ears against the grunts and screams of red-hot gaysex.

They were married two weeks later at the home of friends in Silver Lake and they’ve been together ever since. Not long afterwards, George adopted Cosmé, so that the boy would have two parents; these things are important.

In the 1937 film, Cosmo was realized — embodied — by Roland Young, and  George by Cary Grant. Inspired casting. Also fine casting in the 1953-55 tv sitcom, with Leo G. Carroll realizing George and Robert Sterling realizing George. (Billie Burke is hilarious as Clara, and the films and tv series have a phalanx of glamorous young women playing light comedy beautifully, but this posting is about the guys.)

(As a teenage proto-fag I found Robert Sterling hot as well as funny. And Cary Grant, well Cary Grant.)

Another movie about the Moon family. Back to Cosmé, and his movie. From Wikipedia:

(#5) Cosmé McMoon, FFJ, and St. Clair Bayfield

Florence Foster Jenkins is a 2016 [loosely] biographical film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Nicholas Martin. It stars Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress known for her poor singing. Hugh Grant plays her husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield. Other cast members include Simon Helberg [as Cosmé McMoon], Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda.

Cosmé is realized in this film by the immensely funny Simon Helberg. From Wikipedia:

(#6) An interview with Helberg, with snippets from the movie

Simon Maxwell Helberg (born December 9, 1980) is an American actor, comedian, and musician. He is best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory (2007–present) … and as Cosmé McMoon in the film Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Of course, on the set, Cosmé couldn’t keep his hands off St. Clair, who turned out to be deeply receptive to Cosmé’s advances. Like father, like son. (Maybe it’s the movie sets.) Word has it that St. Clair is about to invest in a window display design firm.

Three addenda, in which I step, exhausted but fulfilled, out of Cosmo’s world and into.

Addendum 1. How I came to Cosmé. When I started writing about the Moon family, I was haunted by the recollection of the name Cosmo Moon, and that name led me to the children’s book Cosmo’s Moon, which I wrote about in my earlier Moon-family posting.

But I realized that this was somehow not the right name, which remained buried somewhere in my memory. Then Robert Coren came along with a comment on the earlier posting that supplied the actual name, Cosmé McMoon, and relieved me of a nagging ache of memory.

I was so close.

Addendum 2. When I started writing about the Moon family, I immediately pulled up the name of the excellently named manic 19th-century usageist G. (for George) Washington Moon. (Note: my memory banks are likely to be very very different from yours.) From my library of works on usage, grammar, and style:

Bache, Richard Meade. 1869. Vulgarisms and other errors of speech: To which is added a review of Mr. G. Washington Moon’s, ‘Dean’s English’ and ‘bad English’. 2nd. ed. Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger.  [reprinted 2007 by Kessinger Publishing]

I’ll post about GWM separately, and decorously, without allusions to buttocks and anal intercourse. He’s a hoot.

Addendum 3. Talking about Moons and sex causes many people to think about bedtime stories, and that leads them right to the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon:


Goodnight Moon is an American children’s book written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. It was published on September 3, 1947, and is a highly acclaimed bedtime story. It features a bunny saying “good night” to everything around: “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon …”.

I chose not to work the book into the saga of the Moon family; feel free to engage your own imagination. But when I get around to posting about G. Washington Moon, it will, remarkably, become relevant.

3 Responses to “Moon shorts 1a: Cosmé McMoon”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    The TV show Topper was a staple of my family’s viewing when I was a child. I did not see (or know of the existence of) the movie from which it was derived until I was well into adulthood.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Then Robert Coren came along with a comment on the earlier posting that supplied the actual name, Cosmé McMoon, and relieved me of a nagging ache of memory.

    Glad to be of service. I first became aware of Cosmé not through the 2016 movie, but from Stephen Temperley’s 2004 play Souvenir, in which he functions as both character and narrator.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I first became aware of Cosmé when I became aware of FFJ, back in the 1960s. But then his name ended up in some remote memory storage facility.

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