Lesbian & Gay Hollywood

My book among others receive great review on AfterElton: premiere gay media site.

Hollywood Bohemians and Others

Greta Garbo and Ramón Novarro

Conventional wisdom has it that in its golden age from 1920 to 1950, Hollywood was a very unwelcome place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. But in fact, as recent studies by William J. Mann, David Ehrenstein and other writers have told us, Tinseltown was crawling with queers.

Even after the Production Code (1934) barred overt homosexual behavior from our nation’s movie screens, GLBT people continued to flourish in the movie industry – just as long as they played the game and stayed clear of Los Angeles’ increasingly homophobic police department.

In fact, between 1917 and 1941 many Hollywood studios, gossip columnists and novelists used gay people, trans-people and adulterers to depict and promote the “glamorous Hollywood lifestyle.”

Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream (McFarland; 248 pages; $35.95) is not so much a history of “gay Hollywood” as a history of how movie makers, writers and publicists used “Hollywood bohemians” to construct the public image of Hollywood as a place that was shocking, naughty and fun.

According to author Brett L. Abrams, and contrary to the Production Code’s suppression of homosexual behavior in motion pictures, “the images of adulterers, homosexuals and cross-dressers appeared in a … positive light in fictional movies and novels about Hollywood. They also appeared in the publicity materials that the Hollywood studios and news media released.”

Hollywood Bohemians gives us many examples of “Hollywood bohemians:” female impersonators, cross-dressing females, odd bachelors and magnificent spinsters in Movieland fact, factoid and fiction. Forgotten folks such as Thelma Todd, Julian Eltinge, Mercedes de Acosta and Ramón Novarro rub elbows with more familiar celebs, including Greta Garbo and Cary Grant, in Abrams’ fascinating pages.

One of Hollywood’s (bohemian or otherwise) favorite getaways was and is the desert resort of Palm Springs. Today Palm Springs is “the most famous gay and lesbian hometown and resort in America,” the home of a score of “clothing-optional” gay guesthouses, the White Party (for guys) and the Dinah Shore weekend (for gals).

But Palm Springs was not always the Gay Mecca that it is today. For a long time, Palm Springs’ city government was controlled by an “old boys” club that frowned upon sexual non-conformity, and as late as the 1960s, a local preacher was run out of town when the local yokels learned that he was gay.

All of that is a thing of the past, and now GLBT people dominate the Palm Springs city government to a degree unheard of anywhere in America outside of West Hollywood, Wilton Manors, Florida or Provincetown, Massachusetts. How celebrities made Palm Springs a gay and lesbian paradise is the theme of David Wallace’s new book A City Comes Out (Barricade Books; 240 pages; $23.95).

Among the Tinseltown notables who came to Palm Springs for fun and profit were queer celebs such as Claudette Colbert, Mary Martin, Liberace, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. All of these folks had tales to tell and Wallace, a prolific author of popular Hollywood histories, has no problem telling them. And to prove that the “old boys” club is long gone from Palm Springs politics, A City Comes Out also features openly gay politicians, including Mayor Stephen Pougnet (the city’s second out mayor in a row) and City Councilman Rick Hutcheson.

Gay men of a certain age, myself included, like to reminisce about the “good old days” of the 1970s, days of sexual freedom uninterrupted by anti-sex politics and HIV infections. But what we miss the most about the “Titanic 1970s” (before it struck the AIDS iceberg) was not unbridled sex, but rather the friends and lovers we lost to the epidemic.

Jack Fritscher, one of the survivors, has written about the “me decade” in his biography of his late lover, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and in his epic novel Some Dance to Remember. In Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer Volume 1, collected and edited by Fritscher’s partner Mark Hemry (Palm Drive Publishing; 734 pages; $39.95), Fritscher again looks back at the seventies, now through the prism of one of that decade’s most important gay publications, Drummer magazine.

Fritscher was more than an avid reader of Drummer magazine. Fritscher became Editor In Chief of Drummer in March, 1977, when the magazine moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, until December 1979, covering issues #14 to 33 and the magazine’s greatest period. Even after he stepped down as editor, Fritscher continued to contribute to Drummer as a writer and photographer.

According to Fritscher, “My secondary goal as editor and writer of Drummer was for masculine-identified gay men to be able to read about themselves, see photos and drawings of themselves, and develop a sense of international community of themselves as red-blooded males. … My primary goal was to get the readers “off” sexually. Drummer, for all that legend has made it as an historical record and cultural force, was meant to be recreational entertainment back when people still knew how to read with one hand.”

Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer is the first of a projected four volume series of anthologies culled from the golden age of Drummer. It opens with introductions by the likes of editor Mark Hemry, Joseph Bean, Tim Barrus, David Hurles (“Old Reliable”), Edward Lucie-Smith and the late Larry Townsend, giving their take on Drummer, Fritscher, or both.

The book then segues to a series of early, gay-related essays by Fritscher himself, including a short bio of the late gay or bisexual actor James Dean. But the bulk of Eyewitness Drummer properly consists of selections from the early, Fritscher-edited issues #14-20 (April 1977 – Jan. 1978), along with commentaries by the author and/or editor that are often lengthier than the original pieces.

As a gay man who lived through and survived the Titanic, I found the articles and photos in Eyewitness Drummer to be both nostalgic and of great historic value. But even guys who were not yet born in the 1970s will find much to enjoy in these classic pieces, as well as in Fritscher’s memoir of the amazing decade between Stonewall and AIDS.

Three pivotal events took place in the summer of 1969: the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Stonewall Riots and the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Though Elliot Tiber never made it to the moon, he managed to take part in both Stonewall and Woodstock. Tiber was at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful Friday night in June when the cops decided to raid the bar (again).

I remember first hearing a beer bottle shatter against the floor somewhere in the room. Then from inside the slowly growing bedlam, someone shouted, ‘Don’t let the pigs harass us anymore! … tonight, we’re fighting back!’ … Anger swelled up inside me – a terrifying anger that had festered and grown over the years. Unbelievably, I heard myself yell, ‘Let’s go out there and turn over their f*cking cars!

But Stonewall was only a minor incident in the storied life of Elliot Tiber – born Eliyahu Teichberg. As Tiber’s memoir Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life (Square One Publishers; 216 pages; 24.95), which Tiber wrote with Tom Monte indicates, the most important event of Tiber’s life was Woodstock. In 1969, Tiber spent much of his time helping his aging Jewish parents run their run-down motel in White Lake, in the Catskill Mountains.

Troubled by the “Teichberg Curse,” Tiber’s only escape was in New York City’s gay community, where he frequented Stonewall and other gay dance clubs and leather bars. Life changed for Tiber and his folks when rock impresario Michael Lang came looking for a place to hold his Woodstock Festival. As head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Tiber fortuitously owned a permit to hold a yearly music concert. Tiber gave Lang the use of his permit, got his friend Max Yasgur to allow the use of his farm for the Festival, and the rest is history.

Taking Woodstock is a wonderful tale of the historic Woodstock Festival, as told by one of the men who made it possible. To the outrage of the local folks and Tiber’s Old World parents, White Lake and Bethel were taken over by a mob of hippies, cross-dressers, leather folk and other bohemians, who freely partook of massive doses of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Woodstock did more than bring much needed money to Tiber and his parents. It also brought Tiber himself out of the closet for good, and it gave him a story to tell, in this book and elsewhere. Tiber’s tale will reach out to mainstream audiences later this year as Taking Woodstock becomes “a major motion picture” directed by Ang Lee (of Brokeback Mountain fame) and starring Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber.

4 comments so far

  1. […] Original post by the paparazzi love me […]

  2. […] Original post by Bohemian Yankee in the Capital […]

  3. […] post by bla2222 In: I love lesbians | […]

  4. emily on

    two nice movies on lesbian relationships are The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight.

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