THIS DAY IN GAY HISTORY
1923 - Poet JAMES SCHUYLER, born, (d: 1991); A native of Chicago, Schuyler moved to New York City in the late 1940s where he worked for NBC and first befriended W.H. Auden. In 1947, he moved to Ischia, Italy, where he lived in the rented Auden’s apartment and worked as Auden’s secretary. Between 1947 and 1948, Schuyler attended the University of Florence.
After returning to the United States and settling in New York City, he roomed with John Ashberry and Frank O’Hara. From 1955-1961, he was a “curator of circulating exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art.” He was also an editorial associate and critic for Art News. Modern art was a major influence in his writing as well as the writings of Whitman.
Reading an account of how a visit by Walt Whitman inspired Logan Pearsall Smith to literary ambition in his Unforgotten Years, Schuyler said “I looked up from my book, and the whole landscape seemed to shimmer.” The personal epic of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and the vital force of landscape become major concerns of Schuyler’s mature poetry.
Like Whitman, Schuyler was not known for revealing much about his personal life. He was Gay, and because he was manic-depressive, suffered several years of psychoanalysis and had a life that seemed to be riddled with traumatic experiences. One of these includes a"near detah experience" in a fire which was caused by him smoking in bed. Schuyler received the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for his 1980 collection The Morning of the Poem. He also coauthored a novel, A Nest of Ninnies, with John Ashberry in 1969. Shuyler also received the Longview Foundation Award in 1961, and the Frank O’Hara Prize for Poetry in 1969 for Freely Espousing.
Schuyler was a Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow of the American Academy of Poets. His poem The Morning of the Poem is considered to be among the best long poems of the postmodern era. His papers are maintained at the University of Connecticut.
1931 – Broadway Brevities probes the long and storied history of Lesbian clubs in New York City with the front page article “Sapphic Sisters, Scram!” as written by “Connie Lingle.” The publication, generally credited as America’s first national weekly gossip tabloid, was launched in New York in 1916 and edited by a Canadian named Stephen G. Clow. Brevities started out covering high society and the A-list of the New York theater world, but by the 1930s had begun covering more general vice and ran splashy features on sex, drugs, gang violence and crime. This was possibly the first time a gossip magazine had made real efforts to attract readers who weren’t members of the elite classes; it didn’t presume its readers had a close familiarity with any given social or professional world. In 1932, New York City banned newsstands from selling the racy tabloid, and it appears to have folded sometime around late 1933.
1879 – VACHEL LINDSAY, poet, born (d: 1931); His exuberant recitation of some of his work led some critics to compare it to jazz poetry despite his persistent protests. Because of his use of American Midwest themes he also became known as the “Prairie Troubador.” Today, his poetry is no longer fashionable, which is too bad since it contains a rhythmic vitality that has all but gone out of contemporary cerebral poetry He is probably best known for this poetic apostrophe to the Salvation Army in “General William Booth Enters Heaven,” although it is questionable whether he ever made it past the pearly Gates himself, since he not only liked boys too much by ended his days a suicide, both offenses that would remove his verses from today’s suburban libraries if the PTAs only knew.
In his 40s, Lindsay lost his heart to the dazzlingly good-looking Australian composer and pianist, Percy Grainger, as had the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg before him. Lindsay killed himself (horribly, swallowing Lysol) in 1931, the year before Hart Crane leapt into the sea. His only biography was published during the Eisenhower years, a decade before homosexuality was officially invented. If it took biographers almost a century to acknowledge Whitman’s Gayness, Lindsay should be due for a really serious biography around 2021.
1892 – Russian designer, ERTÉ, born (d: 1990); born Romain de Tirtoff, Erté is perhaps most famous for his elegant fashion designs which capture the art deco period in which he worked. His delicate figures and sophisticated, glamorous designs are instantly recognizable, and his ideas and art influence fashion into the 21st century. His costumes and sets were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, many productions of the Folies Bergere, and George White’s Scandals. In 1925, Louis B. Mayer brought him to Hollywood to design sets and costumes for a film called Paris. There were many script problems so Erté was given other assignments to keep him busy. He designed for such films as Ben-Hur, The Mystic, Time, the Comedian, Dance Madness and La Boheme.
Erté is virtually synonymous with Art Deco, which is unfortunate as his work represents the extreme of the style and not the style itself. It’s perhaps not an exaggeration to say that Erté’s creations made the most outrageous clothing designed by MGM’s Adrian look like nuns’ habits. Erté’s name can safely be added to that small list of gay male favorites – Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler – that either sends one swooning with rapture or jumping for cover behind the nearest sofa.
1913 - JAMES BROUGHTON poet, poetic filmmaker, and practitioner of “Big Joy,” a pansexual Dionysian approach to life, born. He’s been called the father of the West Coast experimental film movement in the wake of World War II, was part of the San Francisco Renaissance, a literary movement that included Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others. He was an early bard of the Radical Faeries.
Despite many creative love affairs during the San Francisco Beat Scene, Broughton put off marriage until age 49, when, steeped in his explorations of Jungian psychology, he married Susanna Hart in a three-day ceremony on the Pacific coast documented by his friend, the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Susanna’s theatrical background and personality made for a great playmate; they had two children. They built a great community among the creative spirits of Alan Watts, Michael McClure, Anna Halprin, and Imogen Cunningham.
In 1967’s “summer of love,” Broughton made a film, The Bed, a celebration of the dance of life which broke taboos against frontal nudity and won prizes at many film festivals. It rekindled Broughton’s filmmaking and led to more tributes to the human body (The Golden Positions), the eternal child (This is It), the eternal return (The Water Circle), the eternal moment (High Kukus), and the eternal feminine (Dreamwood). “These eternalities praised the beauty of humans, the surprises of soul, and the necessity of merriment,” Broughton wrote.
God and Fuck belong together
Both are sacred and profane
God (the Divine) a
dirty word used for damning
Fuck (the sublime) a
dirty term of depredation
God and Fuck are so much alike
they might be synonymous glories
I’d even go so far as to say
God is the Fuck of all Fucks
And boy He has a Body
like you’ve never seen
from Special Deliveries by James Broughton published by Broken Moon Press
But Broughton spent the greater part of his life with his life partner, artist, Joel Singer, with whom he made many films and traveled the world.
He died in May, 1999 with champagne on his lips, in the house in Port Townsend, Washington where he, and Singer, lived for 10 years. Before he died, he said, “My creeping decrepitude has crept me all the way to the crypt.” His gravestone in a Port Townsend cemetery reads, “Adventure — not predicament.” In 2006 White Crane Books published selected writings of Broughton edited by San Francisco poet and radio host, Jack Foley titled ALL: A James Broughton Reader [ISBN 1-59021-020-4] as part of the White Crane Gay Wisdom Series. It is available at www.gaywisdom.org
1924 – PHYLLIS LYON, Lesbian activist, born; Phyllis Lyon was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, earned in 1946. During the 1940s, she worked as a reporter for the Chico Enterprise Record, and during the 1950s, she worked as part of the editorial staff of two Seattle magazines.
Her name is now almost always paired with that of her partner, Del Martin. Martin and Lyon met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a formal partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together although technically unable to legally marry.
On February 2, 2004, Martin and Lyon were granted the first marriage license given to a same-sex couple in the U.S.. The license was granted in violation of California state law by the City and County of San Francisco after mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licenses be given to same-sex couples who requested them. The licenses were voided on August 12, 2004.
In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other Lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitiss, the first major Lesbian organization in the United States. In 1956, DOB issued a twelve-page, mimeographed newsletter called The Ladder, edited by Lyon. Within five years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to “The Ladder,” but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list.
An acommodationist organization, soon to be closely associated with the Mattachine Society, a predominantly male homophile group, DOB became the first national Lesbian society; and The Ladder, the first overtly Lesbian journal, achieved national circulation. Because of the conservative climate of the 1950s, membership in DOB was secret, and Lyons used a pseudonym for her work on the first few issues of The Ladder. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1961, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.
Lyon and Martin remained leaders of the DOB until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by women who were perceived as more radical and who had different goals for the organization. The Daughters of Bilitis disbanded not long after Martin and Lyon’s leadership ended
Martin and Lyon have been active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) since 1967. Del Martin was the first openly Lesbian woman elected to NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW’s 1971 resolution that Lesbian issues were feminist issues.
1872 - Massachusetts Senator David Ignatius Walsh, the chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, Walsh was discovered to be having regular affairs at a male brothel not far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In The Homosexual Matrix, C.A. Tripp tells the sad story of how the government raided what it called “a male brothel” (a bathhouse, perhaps?) near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Arrested was the manager, Gustave Beekman, who was told he could expect a lighter sentence if he cooperated with the government in naming clients, especially foreign agents who were suspected of blackmailing Gay Navy men in an attempt to gain military secrets. Several foreign agents were, in fact, arrested. Also named as a regular patron of the “house on Pacific Street” was Senator Walsh, chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. Walsh, whose name was plastered across tabloids for weeks, was cleared by his colleagues in the Senate (something about a “wide stance”) after a favorable report from the FBI. Beekman, whose position was not exactly one of privilege, was tried on sodomy charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison, every day of which was served.
1950 – The first meeting of the MATTACHINE SOCIETY; As Senator Joseph McCarthy railed against homosexuals in the State Department, Harry Hay, working on the Henry Wallace presidential campaign in 1948, wrote a startling document, declaring homosexuals an oppressed minority. While the idea is widely accepted today, at the time the notion of homosexuals as a minority was considered absurd. But it was this key concept that would eventually bring the Gay and Lesbian rights movement together.
Harry’s platform for the Wallace campaign was never voted on, but he remained determined to organize homosexuals to fight for their equal rights. Two years later, he met Rudi Gernreich (later to be the noted fashion designer) and together they canvassed beaches in the Los Angeles area known as homosexual gathering places, inviting people to a discussion group about the just released Kinsey Report. In November 1950, Harry showed the plank written for the Wallace campaign to Bob Hull, a student in his Southern California Labor School class. Bob shared the document with two of his friends, Chuck Rowland and Dale Jennings, and on November 11, 1950, the five met for the first time to discuss forming a political group that would later become the Mattachine Society. All of the founding members identified themselves as leftist. The group meets again two days later, on Nov. 13th.
Given the fearful political climate, Mattachine Society meetings often took place in secret with members using aliases. Like the Communist Party, the organization was organized in a cell structure that was non-centralized so that should a confiscation of records occur only limited information would be available to the authorities.
Over the course of the next two years, the Mattachine Society worked to organize and increase regional chapters throughout most of Southern California, but it was not until the arrest of member Dale Jennings on police entrapment charges that the Mattachine Society took on its first political battle. Police entrapment was a common form of harassment against homosexuals during that period. Suspects’ names were printed in the newspapers, which caused many to lose their jobs and become estranged from their families. By standing up to defend Jennings, the Mattachine Society not only rose to the defense of one of their members, but also took on the notorious Los Angeles Police Department for its pattern and practice of homosexual harassment.
1985 — After a year of cold feet, “An Early Frost” airs on NBC. Writers DAN LIPMAN and RON COWEN (later to produce “Sisters” and “Queer as Folk”) attempt to create the first TV movie to deal with both homosexuality and the impact of AIDS on a beleaguered community of Gay men. The suburban Pierson family not only deals with closeted workaholic son Nick’s dual secret (along with the unfaithfulness of his partner Peter), but also the anger, resentment and frustrations of mother Kate and sister Susan. While it draws an amazing 1/3 of the viewing audience, the daring broadcast loses NBC about a half million dollars in ad revenue. And while many consider the broadcast a success, others feel the film’s directness stalls nationwide discussion of AIDS, “because it achieved its narrative and informational goals so well.”