Still from “Vallejo,” 1947 | The Harold T. O’Neal Collection | The G.L.B.T. Historical Society | New Yorker | 16216gh
During the post war years and into the sixties, positive portrayals of gay men and lesbians living happy and successful lives were completely absent from films. During the British film boom from 1955 to 1965 there were a number of films which shed light on homosexual lifestyles (in Britain) but again the characters portrayed “had flaws”. For a more accurate reflection of what life was really like for gay men and lesbians, it is necessary not to look at the portrayals of mass media, but to look at the private films made on home movie cameras by amateur film makers of the time.
The New Yorker sheds more light on the matter.
Harold O’Neal was an amateur film maker who lived in San Francisco. Born in Stockton, California, in 1910, he was a reserved, somewhat shy man who worked for the Veterans Administration and in personnel for the Army Corps of Engineers. He kept his sexuality closely guarded, but made dozens of home movies which captured the rhythms and intimacies of gay social life long before it was allowed to flourish in the open.
One home movie shows a telegenic group of men on a getaway at a shoreline cabin in the Bay Area town of Vallejo, in 1947. The friends sunbathe, laugh together, mug for the camera with more than a touch of theatricality. A man picks some orange flowers and tucks them behind his ear; another wears a grass skirt and dances the hula.
Another movie, from 1946, shows a house party where guests in suits and ties smoke cigarettes and drink from dainty glasses. Men dance in pairs, hands clasped, a head against a cheek. One giddily air-claps to music the viewer cannot hear.
A fascinating article.