What’s So Gay About the Novel, Juliana?

After the first reading of the beginning chapters of JULIANA by my magnificent actors on December 2 at The Stonewall Bar I got a few questions that might be summed up as: “Where was the gay?” Patience. It’s coming. This question led me to write a series of blog articles to briefly elucidate the historical background that my characters live in. The following is the first article.

1940s & Homosexuality

          1. People coming from the country as the four kids do in the novel don’t really know what “gay” is. (FYI: the word “gay” meaning homosexual was in use in the forties by gay people; it was generally not known to “normals” at that time).In 1941 Huntington, Long Island, where the kids come from, was the country, not the suburbs.

          2. Back then homosexuals were an extreme out-group. Much further out than Roman Catholics, immigrants or African Americans. People believed that homosexuals, both men and women, were dangerous in general and especially dangerous to children. The terms homosexual and child molester were often lumped together as synonyms.

        3. Nice people did not know any homosexuals or at least they thought they didn’t. And certainly you never expected to find such a thing in yourself. This is not to say that there were no gay people who knew they were gay and were comfortable with this knowledge. These people did exist, especially in the cities. Alice (Al), the novel’s protagonist, will be meeting some of these. But for the most part the folks in forties knew nothing about the reality of homosexuality.

The Experience of a “normal” who lived during that time period

       I met Arlene Friedman Simone on-line through my research for this novel.  She has been tremendously helpful in its development since she actually lived through those times.  Arlene attended City College from 1948-1952 and while there acted and danced in some of their plays.  She had the role of “Miss Turnstiles” in the musical, On the Town. If you’ve seen the recent revival of that play on Broadway then you know how demanding that role is.  She also participated in an early sit-down strike at the college, protesting racial and religious injustice in 1949. I mention these details to show that this woman was no country bumpkin, and still she was not aware of “homosexuals” attending her school.

Arlene Friedman Simone 1948-52

Arlene Friedman Simone (1948-52)

She said, “It wasn’t an open world then. Only later did I realize that Donald Madden, who was a close friend of mine and our best actor was gay. He was my Gaby in On the Town and there was no question for me that he was heterosexual. It never entered my mind that his relationship with Wilson Lehr, the director of our theater group, was extraordinarily close.  Donald went on to become a highly respected stage and TV actor.  He was acclaimed for doing a great Hamlet. It was either on Broadway or off, but they said it was a very effeminate Hamlet.  We were all devastated when he died n 1983 at the age of 49.  They claimed his death was from lung cancer, but this was 1983…”

Arlene went on to say that when “Herb Ross, who was the choreographer, brought in a group of dancers to dance the”Turnstiles” ballet with me, they certainly seemed very different from the boys I knew at school. I believe they were also comfortable with themselves, because I remember wondering why they talked so differently, and in my naivety, I thought they were cute and funny.”

I think this memory shows clearly how things were back then and I feel so sad for poor Donald Madden who had to stay in the closet to survive and have a career worthy of his natural gifts.  Google him.  He did a lot.  And this is what my novel is for: to pay homage to those who went on before and created the miraculous changes we see today.

Next week’s blog entry: The Difference Between the 1930s & 1940s: The Pansy & Lesbian Craze.

Come to the next live reading. You’ll begin to see where the gay is.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

When Cars Drove Through the Washington Square Arch

I’d love YOU to follow my blog. To sign up enter your email in the box to the right.

The Washington Arch in the 1940s.

The Washington Arch in the 1940s.

If you look at this post card from the 1940s the Washington Square Arch looks pretty much the way it does today.  But if you look closer  you will see that the cars are driving through the Arch.  When I bought this postcard from eBay it drove me a little nuts.  Was I seeing right?  Were those cars really going through the Arch?  I kept staring at it over days and weeks checking my perception.   Then I found an old film about New York transportation in the 1930s and 40s and a city bus drove right through the arch!  I went back over that bit of film a few times still thinking I’d seen it wrong.  After all the film was old with lots of cracking. But, yes, a bus did, indeed, go through the arch.  So why didn’t I check this out on the Internet before driving myself crazy?

Well, I tried.  But there is nothing really on it.  What is reported on is the fight between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in the late forties and early fifties when Moses had a plan to extend Fifth Avenue into the park.  These Internet articles are written as though there had been no traffic into the park previously, but Moses wanted to put it there.  Actually, Moses wanted to increase the traffic that was already coming into the park and Jane Jacobs wanted to stop him from doing that.  Thankfully Jane Jacobs and her committee won and in 1952 all traffic into the park was stopped.  But prior to this battle Washington Square Park had cars coming into it through the arch.

DSCN0863

Imagine the posts in the center are gone and instead a few cars are driving through the arch. Isn’t that just a little bit scary?

While thinking about this entry I frequently walked down to the arch and tried to picture cars going through it, but it was hard.  Granted, today there is a metal fence and posts that would prevent any vehicles from coming into the park, but if those were taken away how would they do it?  Standing in the freezing in the horrible cold, I tried to picture them fitting through that arch.  It must have been an awfully tight squeeze.  What do you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Plane Spotters

Guest Post by Shareen Knight

My mother’s hands were shaking. It was a sunny summer afternoon towards the end of WW II when we heard the engine of a small plane as it came across the bay. We ran outside, her with the binoculars and me holding the chart of colored drawings of every kind of plane that existed in the 40s. It was her job to report any enemy aircraft, as there was a fear after Pearl Harbor that the Japanese carriers off the coast would send planes to bomb American cities on the West Coast.

Volunteers were organized to keep watch. Thousands of people, high school kids, retired folk, women whose husbands were still overseas fighting, and little kids like me who were unofficial helpers.

As the plane came closer, we held our ground, and soon the plane came into view flying very low. Oh my god, a red circle on the side could only mean one thing, we had spotted our first Japanese fighter plane. The pilot saw us and we saw him. I stood transfixed, a little afraid, but mostly excited. I wondered if he would shoot us. But, he didn’t shoot, instead he tipped his wing toward us and flew by in an arc, as if to say hello-goodbye, and then he headed back toward the Pacific Ocean.

Shareen Knight is a writer and artist/photographer who lives in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. She is writing a novel that takes place in the 40s and 50s in rural America where she was raised, and is also working on a comedic/drama full-length play about the Inuit people and Global Warming. She claims to live in an igloo, but nobody believes her because the snow has all melted.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1940's history, Pearl Harbor, Plane Spotting, World War II, WWII

When The US Government Told Us What to Wear

During World War 2, in an effort to save precious materials needed for the war, The War Production Board (WPB) was in charge of rationing civilian goods. The first to be rationed was sugar and gasoline. Gradually other items were added like rubber, coffee and meat (somehow poultry didn’t count as meat so it wasn’t rationed). You couldn’t buy a refrigerator or a Bendix washer during the war, but these companies regularly advertised in the popular magazines, reminding customers of all they were giving to the war effort.
images-1
The WPB came out with Limitation Order L-85, which dictated how much cloth could be used to make clothing. Although clothing wasn’t rationed in the US (except shoes*) as it was in Great Britain the WPB made regulations on how much cloth could be used to make any one outfit. The sleeves of dresses now had to be 3/4 length, dresses with no collars were favored. Double breasted suits for both men and women became single breasted. There were no more women’s pleated skirts. (Stanton, 2009a) The WPB’s slogan was,”Control without regimentation,” meaning they didn’t want to tell designers how to initiate their regulations, but they did expect them to be followed. After all, this was being done “for the boys.” Everyone was behind it. Muriel Johnstone, a dress designer, advertising her new regulation dresses used the slogan: “Conserving material for victory.” (OldMagazineArticles.com)

In the interest of following the mandate to use less material—or so they claimed—designers started raising women’s skirts from the mid-calf to just below the knee. The amount of clothes women wore during this time became less and less, especially in Hollywood. Watch the films made during the war. First, you’ll see a lot of those collarless dresses along with the shorter lengths. Also, you’ll note how scanty many of the women are dressed, lots of bare legs, bare arms, cleavage. Compare these outfits with the clothing worn in films made before the war and after. It was “all for the boys.” (Stanton, 2009b)

__________________________________

*Each individual was allowed 3 pairs of shoe a year, which doesn’t sound terribly harsh to me. Stage Door volunteers were permitted and extra pair of shoes because their shoes wore out quickly from all that dancing.

Stanton, S.L.(2009a) Limitation Order L-85: General restrictions. The United States in War and Peace (PDF)

Stanton, S.L.(2009b) Limitation Order L-85: Fashion and Morale, The United States in War and Peace

2 Comments

Filed under 1940's history, 1940s Fashion, clothing 1940s, gay, Juliana the Novel, Lesbian, Uncategorized, World War II

Lilyan Tashman

imagesI had wanted to include Lilyan Tashman in my novel (celebrities make cameo appearances) only she died too soon (1934) for the dates that my characters live. Lilyan Tashman began as a vaudevillian in New York and appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies between 1916 and 1918.  From this she became a Broadway actress and later a Hollywood film actress who some sources say never quite made it to what would be considered “superstar status.”  Despite this she made sixty-six films and made an easy transition from silent films to the talkies.

A Thumbnail of Lilyan

The idea that Lilyan never reached star status may have more to do with an internet rumor made real through repetition than to fact.  True, she is not a household name today, but are we the deciders of what was important to people in another era?  Mann (2001) reports that The Lilyan Tashman Fan Club of the 1930s was composed of thousands of devoted young women.  Reporters for movie magazines considered her “great copy” because during the depression she gave young women fashion advice. (Imagine a Lesbian giving fashion advise? Oh, our modern day stereotypes!) “If you have to go without an extra hat, an extra pair of gloves or even an extra dress, do pay more attention to yourself.  It’s the secret of poise and the very first step in smartness.”  Mann goes on to say, “Tashman played her looks and femininity for all they could get her–“a lipstick” lesbian years before the term was coined.

Lilyan’s Funeral

Maybe Lilyan didn’t reach the top of the Hollywood star list, but she lived a lavish life with her openly gay husband,  Edmund Lowe, and she definitely  had her fans.  When she died an early death at age 37 from stomach cancer on March 21,1934 10,000 of her fans, mostly women, showed up in a frenzy of adoration (that sounds rather Dionysian)  They tore up the grounds trying to get close to her.  They pushed the famous out of their way. Stars like Fanny Brice, Jack Benny and Mary Pickford. Eddie Cantor who gave the eulogy said, it was “the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen.”  Several women almost fell into the open grave. There were quite a few injuries that day  (Starr, 2006). Lilyan’s husband Edmund said, “People have said it was bad taste, irreverent.  I don’t think so.  Lilyan didn’t think so either.  It was their way of showing they cared.” (Mann, 2001)

LILYAN: Lesbian, Bi or Straight and Does It Really Matter?

The Lesbian camp

Some sources consider Lilyan a Lesbian (Mann, 2001, McClellan, 2000, Wikipedia, 12/22/13). These sources focus on the fact that her second husband was an openly gay man (not easy in those days) and that she had an affair with both Garbo and Joan Crawford.  McClellan says, “To call Lilyan a lesbian is like calling Casanova a flirt. Lilyan was a whole-hearted and highly skilled missionary for the joy of lesbian sex.”  The sources in the lesbian camp tell of Lilyan seducing women in ladies rooms.  You would think that this activity would have gotten her into a lot of trouble, but she had quite a few takers.  Lilyan believed that any woman would prefer sex with a woman more than with a man if she just gave it a try and she seemed to have convinced quite a few theatrical grande dames and ingenues who kept the secret.

The Bi-Sexual Camp

The most thorough source on Lilyan that I found on the net was a blog called:  Silence is Platinum.  In this blog,  Lilyan is referred to as bi-sexual.  The main reason given is that Lilyan was married to Edmund Lowe.  But Hollywood gay and lesbian “stars” often married each other.  It gave them a higher status than if they appeared at a party with only a “date.”  According to my reading these marriages were not simply “show marriages.”  These couples often developed deep friendships; they held communal property and each partner was given rights of survivorship.

The author of Silence is Platinum blog admires Lilyan for a number of reasons, but s/he is especially fond of Lilyan because she beat up an actress who she found in her openly gay husband’s dressing room.  The implication being that Lilyan held sexual feelings for Edmund that perhaps went beyond friendship. Lilyan was also known in secret circles to have been this jealous and this volatile about her girlfriends.  Garbo, supposedly, broke up with her because of Lilyan’s jealous tantrums. Mann (2001) puts a different spin on Lilyan beating up the actress in Edmund’s dressing room.  Mann thinks perhaps the woman had come for Lilyan, changed her mind and some type of altercation ensued.  He backs up his hypothesis with some plausible data.  Neither woman appeared for the hearing so the charges were dropped. (Mann, 2001)

The Straight Camp

Curiously enough a short biography of Lilyan that appeared in The Windy City Times,  a gay periodical that comes out of Chicago,  seems to imply that she was straight. This article is the only one I’ve found thus far to talk of Lilyan falling “madly in love with Edmund” (Starr, 2006) without mentioning that Edmund was gay.  This really had me perplexed until I looked a little further. This article was a syndicated column and The Windy City Times must have bought it without reading or thinking about it.

Leaving out a celebrity’s sexual orientation is not uncommon. This has been the norm for straight press and biographies up until recently. This started me thinking.  Does it matter if the sexual orientation is left out of the discussion of a celebrity? Celebrity not only includes the movie star types, but what about scientists, authors, artists and others? Is sexual orientation superfluous to an individual’s societal contribution or intricate? What do you think? I hope you’ll give your opinion in the comment section.


Lilyan is the blonde
References:  MacLennan, D. (2000). The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Mann, W.J. (2001) Behind the screen: How gays and lesbians shaped Hollywood 1910-1969. New York, Penguin Group.
Starr, S. (2006).  Starrlight: Lilyan Tashman, Windy City Times, Chicago.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Tallulah Bankhead

tallulah-bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead

Daddy always warned me about men and alcohol, but he never said a thing about women and cocaine.”  “Wise words” from our lovable, didn’t- give- a- damn bi-sexual.

But even “Tallu,” as open and outrageous as she was, had her struggles with the times she lived in. In the thirties when Marlene Dietrich was cut from a film because she insisted on working with director,  Josef von Sternberg and no one else, in Blonde Venus, the part was offered to Tallulah Bankhead.  Tallulah answered, “I always did want to get into Marlene’s pants.” Marlene Dietrich laughed; the Hays Office did not. Tallu was cut; Marlene Dietrich got her part and her director (McClennan, 2000)

Reference:  McClennnan, D. (2000). The Girls. New York: St.Martin’s Press.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gay Couple Together for 58 Years

Ray Fritz, a member of this site who is a fantastic and versatile actor as well as being a knowledgable historian of early 20th century New York City sent me an article that I think is perfect for beginning the New Year. It is about a gay couple who met shortly after World War 2 and stayed together for the next 58 years. I hope you’ll read it and celebrate your own relationships over the coming year.

Thank you, Ray!

New York Times: Elmer Lokkins, Symbol of Same-Sex Marriage Cause, Dies at 94

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized