Two Gay Romance Firsts: The Happily Ever After Ending and Clinch Cover

Gay Romance Firsts The Happily Ever After Ending and Clinch Cover

Gordon Merrick, Victor Gadino, and Peter and Charlie

Gordon Merrick created the legendary and popular Peter & Charlie gay romance series. The trilogy portrayed the first mainstream love story between two men that concluded happily ever after.

The books provided another milestone for same-sex fiction when reprinted in the 1980s. A young artist named Victor Gadino illustrated the iconic clinch covers. Never before had male couples been pictured so intimately on romance novels.

On the front of The Lord Won’t Mind the blond pair are gazing into each other’s eyes and reaching out to hold hands.

the lord won't mind victor gadino gordon merrick
The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1980 edition, Victor Gadino cover art

Gordon Merrick, Writer of Gay Melodramas and Romances

Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 1916. The new 20th century was moving on a more socially liberal trajectory. Merrick would be part of that cultural momentum.

The son of a stockbroker, Merrick studied French Literature at Princeton. He then got into acting, performing in several Broadway productions. Later, Merrick became a television screenwriter and journalist.

Merrick made history as one of the first novelists to depict graphic homosexual fiction for a mass audience. His tawdry novels were full of melodrama, sex, and beautiful men. Usually, they concluded in heartache for the main characters. Merrick’s books were tantalizing reads akin to those of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, or Jackie Collins, only much gayer.

Modern readers might chuckle at the almost-innocent vulgarity and campy nature of his works. Or they may cluck their tongues at the “outdated” themes and unapologetic preference for ultra-glamorous, gorgeous, continent-hopping, wealthy protagonists. Merrick essentially wrote man-on-man bodice rippers, after all.

Merrick wrote fourteen books over 40 years. He would die in Sri Lanka in 1988.

His final novel, The Good Life, was co-authored with his partner, Charles Hulse, and published after his death. Like most of Merrick’s books, it was a bestseller.

gordon merrick gay romance
Gordon Merrick

Merrick’s Peter and Charlie Trilogy

The Lord Won’t Mind, the First Mainstream Gay Romance (Sort of)

Merrick’s piece de resistance, The Lord Won’t Mind, came out in hardcover in 1970. The book told the turbulent and forbidden love story of two beautiful, blond Ivy Leaguers–one named Peter and the other Charlie.

It was a graphic page-turner and sold like pancakes at the old World’s Fair. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The mass-market paperback edition was then released by publishing house Avon in 1971. This was a year before they gambled on Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ slush-pile manuscript for The Flame and the Flower.

The Lord Won’t Mind (from left to right): Bernard Geis Publisher, 1970, first edition hardcover; Avon, 1971, paperback edition; Alyson Publications, October 1995 paperback edition

A Genuine Romance Novel About a Same-Sex Couple

Due to societal changes, there was a hungry audience out there for explicit fiction. Merrick’s work was just that: raunchy and schlocky.

“For the love of God, have mercy on my aching cock. I want you in bed.”

“That, sure lord, is where I want to be.”

The Lord Won’t MinD, GORDON MERRICK

Even so, The Lord Won’t Mind was also sweetly romantic. The forbidden lovers vowed to be together forever.

“I say, if it’s love, the Lord won’t mind. There’s enough hate in the world.”

 The Lord Won’t MinD, GORDON MERRICK

Readers anxiously hoped for the pair to end happily but were left hanging instead. It would take two more books detailing the erotic, taboo relationship for fans to find out what would happen. The sequel came out in 1972; the final book followed in 1974.

Enter Artist Victor Gadino, Another Gay Icon

The success of the series led Avon to give Merrick the star treatment. His books would now receive extra attention to detail—especially the cover art, an area where Avon excelled.

In 1977, an up-and-coming artist named Victor Gadino landed the job of creating new covers for Merrick’s backlist. He started with An Idol For Others. This mass-market paperback showed two males–one in a suit, the other shirtless–in a positively seductive manner.

“Avon books decided to rerelease the Merrick novels as typical mass-market romance paperbacks. Up until then they had simple covers and were sold in specialty shops or from “under” the counter. The head art director was a strong female with vision and a great eye.

“It was the early days of gay liberation and she recognized the time was right. She saw my talent and gay sensibility and gave me the assignment for the first cover, the most conservative one, An Idol for Others. I never met Mr. Merrick, but I was told he was not happy with the mature model I used and thought he looked too old.

“He was, however, very pleased with the eight covers that followed, all using handsome young models.”

VICTOR GADINO, THE ADVOCATE

One For the Gods (Charlie & Peter Book #2): More Gay Romance, But No HEA Yet

The sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind documented Charlie and Peter’s glitzy lifestyle as the golden duo engaged in a thrilling, illicit, on-again-off-again relationship. The second book, One For the Gods, introduced a third person into the mix to form a crazy love triangle.

First there was Charlie and Peter.

Their love affair broke a lot of conventions… but it didn’t break them all. For Peter and Charlie are in love–with each other–and with Martha. And Martha is passionately in love with them both.

From St. Tropez to Athens to Mykonos, this powerful, moving novel follows their devastating triangle of romance and desire through a world of sun-drenched pleasure and Mediterranean adventure.

One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick

The Gadino cover art is more intimate than the previous one, with the couple holding hands. However, the third wheel in this romance is prominently pictured, showing all is not well in paradise.

Gay Romance first hea clinch Cover
Avon,1981 reissue, Victor Gadino cover art

Forth Into Light (Charlie & Peter #3): A Gay Romance with a HEA

Finally, in 1974, Forth Into Light concluded the romantic series.

In the final chapter of the bestselling epic love story of Peter and Charlie, the two men are forced to fight for their relationship like never before

For two men with the looks of Adonis and Narcissus, it’s no surprise that Greece was the destination for a romantic getaway. Once there, however, the two men fall into the beds of others, with the duplicitous Martha striving to steal Charlie away from Peter after he has a moment of infidelity.

For the final installment of the Peter & Charlie Trilogy, Gordon Merrick widens his focus on the couple to include the village in which they’re staying, creating a web of deceit and lust that comes to a head in unexpected and satisfying ways, while the love between Peter and Charlie is tested repeatedly with the emergence of a passionate young man named Jeff. The bond between these two has spanned the years and the globe, but it could well meet its end here on the lush Greek shores. 

FORTH INTO LIGHT, GORDON MERRICK

Below is the original cover for the conclusion to Charlie and Peter’s epic romance. The artwork is neither overt nor titillating. The two hands reaching out to touch the other appear reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

first gay romance novel
Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1974

Gadino Masterpiece: A Gay Romance Clinch Cover

Gadino’s clinch cover for the monumental gay romance Forth Into Light is more emotional and evocative than the original. The two men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Their backs face the viewer as they stare out at an ocean sunset.

Readers knew this was not just another sex adventure by looking at the cover. This was a true romance novel, one for gay men.

first gay romance novel hea
Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1982, 6th printing, Victor Gadino cover art

The Peter and Charlie Trilogy by Gordon Merrick was monumental mainstream gay fiction. Unlike the slashy melodramas of the pulp era, the love story finished on a positive note. The protagonists got a joyful ending.

Merrick’s audience-pleasing, optimistic conclusion and Gadino’s sensual clinch cover make the Peter and Charlie series–and Forth Into Light especially–pivotal in gay romance history.

Your Opinion

Have you heard of or read Gordon Merrick and the first gay romance novel with a HEA? Did you know about Victor Gadino’s history-making 1980s clinch cover art for the reissue of the series? What do you think about these romances and covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

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