From English Professor To Tattoo Artist: The Wild Journey Of "The Renaissance Man," Samuel Steward

A Methodist boy from Ohio becomes a professor – then he becomes a tattoo artist for the Hells Angels, friends with the global literati, and a writer of steamy gay fiction: Samuel Steward's biography is nothing if not fascinating. Also known as Philip Sparrow and Philip Andros, Steward went from a career in academia to one as a tattoo artist and photographer, all while working with novelist Gertrude Stein and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. In the 1960s, when Steward moved to California, he worked as the exclusive tattooer of the Hells Angels.

Since his passing, Steward's contributions to a positive gay literature and identity during some of the most repressive eras in United States history, have been celebrated as have his more general contributions to literature. It's not hyperbole to say that, during his 84 years on the planet, Steward lived several lifetimes.  

  • Alfred Kinsey Filmed Him Engaged In BDSM

    Alfred Kinsey Filmed Him Engaged In BDSM
    Photo: Wallace Kirkland/The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

    In the late 1940s, Steward befriended renowned sex-researcher Alfred Kinsey. By this time, Steward was extremely open about his desires and agreed to provide Kinsey with his writings which detailed his encounters and photos of his bedroom escapades. Steward referred to this information as his "stud file," and it included thousands of contributions from throughout his life. Kinsey visited group events held at Steward's home and filmed him engaging in BDSM with New York erotic artist Steve Masters, whose real name was Mike Miksche. 

  • He Moved To California In The Early '60s And Started Tattooing The Hells Angels

    He Moved To California In The Early '60s And Started Tattooing The Hells Angels
    Photo: Lt. Comdr. Charles Fenno Jacobs (1904-1975) for the U.S. Navy / Wikimedia / Public Domain

    Steward began giving tattoos to the "riff raff" on South Street while he lived in Chicago, and, in 1964, he took his tattooing skills to California when he relocated to the East Bay Area. There, he attracted notable clients like members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle club. 

  • Steward Claims To Have Had A Steamy Encounter With Silent-Film Star Rudolph Valentino

    Steward Claims To Have Had A Steamy Encounter With Silent-Film Star Rudolph Valentino
    Photo: Daniel Blum / Wikimedia / Public Domain

    Steward claims he had a tryst in 1926 with silent-film star and Hollywood hearthrob Rudolph Valentino, when Steward was just 17. Valentino was making his way from Chicago when he decided to stop for a night in Columbus, Ohio, where Steward lived at the time. Staying in a hotel "incognito," Valentino was approached by the young Steward, who asked for his autograph. Needless to say, Steward got a lot more than just an autograph, according to him at least. According to Steward's "Stud File," he gave Valentino oral pleasure and, it is rumored, preserved one of Valentino's hairs from "down there" as a memento of the act.

    In a shocking turn, Valentino passed just a month after his encounter with Steward. Reports on the cause range from pleurisy to a ruptured ulcer. But regardless, his passing was tragic and shocking to his fans. He was only 31.


  • He Admired Oscar Wilde – So He Seduced His Hero's Former Lover

    Steward was a big admirer of writer Oscar Wilde, who passed in 1900. So, when Steward had the opportunity to befriend Wilde's former lover, he leaned right into it. Lord Alfred Douglas, AKA "Bosie," who was 39 years older than Steward, was seduced by Steward. In his autobiography, he admitted that going "to bed with [Douglas] was hardly the most attractive prospect in the world – it was terrifying, even repulsive." His only motivation for going to bed with Douglas was because of his prior relationship with Wilde.

  • He Wrote Extremely Detailed Journals About His Encounters As Well As Steamy Fiction

    Many of the photographs, drawings, and writings Steward kept from his encounters were turned over to Alfred Kinsey for his research, but Steward put them to use for his own purposes, too. Still using the name Phil Sparrow, among other pseudonyms, Steward published short stories in international magazine like Der Kreis in Switzerland and Eos and Amigos in Denmark. In gay publications, Steward had found the perfect outlets for his writing.

    In the early 1960s, Steward reinvented himself again. He took the name Phil Andros, the name he used when he began writing graphic novels. In 1966, $tud was published, written from the perspective of a "cocky male hustler who made no bones about his illicit profession, nor his countless erotic encounters." He continued to write steamy gay literature, works like Shuttlecock and The Boys In BlueIn contrast to other gay pulp novels that were somewhat hopeless and laden with alcoholism and defeat, his writing provided an alternative vision of gay experiences which were better described as "the happiest pornography."

  • His Friendships With Authors Led To Experimentation... With Rock Hudson

    His Friendships With Authors Led To Experimentation... With Rock Hudson
    Photo: Warner Brothers / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During the summers of 1937 and 1939, Steward made his way to Europe, visiting writers André Gide and Gertrude Stein, taking lovers along the way. In one instance, he claims to have had an intimate relationship with Thornton Wilder, who was never out as a gay man. He supposedly had an affair with a Nazi storm trooper, as well. 

    Also notably, Steward claims to have had a brief, intimate encounter with a man he knew as Roy Fitzgerald in a Marshall Field's elevator. Roy Fitzgerald was actually Rock Hudson (pictured above).