Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
Take it for what it's worth, but I read one of Sir Dirk Bogarde's memoirs, and he said that Visconti told him that the reason he played up the Mahler connection in "Death in Venice" was because Visconti knew Thomas Mann, and Mann allegedly told Visconti that the story was more based in reality than anyone knew. Mann supposedly met Mahler on a train coming back from Venice (no year given) and that, like the character in the story, Mahler had become infatuated with a youth and had worn makeup to try to look younger, etc. Mann waited until Mahler's death to publish the story, just in case anyone did make the connection. I have no idea if there is any other source to verify this anecdote, but it's yet another interesting wrinkle that might fit into the complexities of Mahler.
This is pure speculation on my part:
It has been suggested for decades that the character Gustav in Death in Venice was based on Mahler. I just find that the idea of Mahler being a bisexual a bit "beside the point," but he married very late in life which would have been cause for gossip in the turn of the century milieu of Vienna. I don't doubt that Mann and Mahler traveled in the same circles even if they did not live in the same country. And considering that Mann himself had admitted to bisexual feelings that he never acted upon, it is possible that the character of Gustav is a synthesis of more than one person. Then there is the question of whether Visconti would have been the only person that Thomas Mann told the story to, and it seems likely that if the story were true, others would have heard of it as well.
Writers are notorious for taking things from one person and another person and building a character that can be mistaken for either or neither of the people that inspire the portrayal. In the end, does it really affect how we enjoy the music of Mahler or the literature of Mann? I think both the music and literature stand firmly on their own merits, apart from any of the human foibles of their creators.