Updated on 1 May 2018.
The Boys In The Band | Video cover | Amazon | 15051
Time remembers the seminal stage play and film “The Boys in The Band”, which made its film debut 45 years ago on 17 March 1970, making history because it was one of the first American films to focus on gay characters. Adapted from Mart Crowley’s 1968 off-Broadway play, and directed by William Friedkin, the movie, funded by the CBS television network, was a candid illustration of gay life in New York at the time, and its’ realism helped it succeed.
The original 1968 Off-Broadway, New York stage cast and production | Unknown photographer | San Francisco Sentinel | 15052
The film featured Kenneth Nelson, Leonard Frey, Cliff Gorman, Frederick Combs, Keith Prentice, Robert La Tourneaux, Reuben Greene, Peter White, Maud Adams and Elaine Kaufman (the last two uncredited on the movie titles).
Sascha Cohen puts the film into context:
To the generation of gay Americans who came of age amidst the positive imagery of the contemporary LGBT rights movement — pride, love, rainbows and the message that “It Gets Better” — the plight of these men can look unrecognizable. With its bitter angst and grim outlook (the film’s most famous line is “show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse”) The Boys in the Band feels like something of a relic.
Frederick Combs, Kenneth Nelson, Reuben Greene, Cliff Gorman and Keith Prentice in “The Boys in the Band”, 1970 | Cinema Center Films | 18312
But in 1970, it was a milestone for gay representation in Hollywood. For decades, homosexuality did not appear onscreen at all; the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code, enforced until 1968, prohibited the portrayal of “sex perversion.” Although a handful of characters from classic films — Plato in Rebel Without a Cause, the “sissy” cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz and the murderous aesthetes in Hitchcock’s Rope — managed to slip past the censors, those who would interpret such figures as gay are stuck reading subtext. In The Boys in the Band, on the other hand, gay desire and identity are explicit; each character announces his presence as a “fairy” or a “queen.” The film helped make the gay community culturally visible during a moment in which openly discussing homosexuality was still taboo, and many Americans had yet to encounter an “out” gay man in person.
Mart Crowley’s commented, “What did I have to lose?” to explain how a fey Hollywood failure wrote the play in a week, won a five-day workshop way off-off Broadway that turned into the event absolutely Everybody Had to See, then turned down big Tinsel town money to insist the 1970 film be made with its original, very brave, cast of unknowns,
wrote Seán Martinfield of the San Francisco Sentinel, reviewing the event “The Making of The Boys” which took place at San Francisco’s 33rd Frameline Film Festival, in an undated article.
Actor/Director Frederick Combs was born on October 11, 1935 and died on September 19, 1992.
Actor Kenneth Nelson was born on March 24, 1930 and died of HIV/Aids on October 7, 1993.
Actor Cliff Gorman was born on October 13, 1936 and died of leukemia on September 5, 2002.
Actor Keith Prentice was born on February 21, 1940 and died of cancer on September 27, 1992.
Actor Reuben Greene was born on November 24, 1938 and is understood to be living.