Mae West and “The Drag”

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Copyright control | 17137

In 1927 Mae West wrote a play called “Drag” which was swiftly banned.

The play, subtitled A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts and written under the pseudonym Jane Mast, was about a young society man, Rolly Kingsbury, who prefers feminine young men, and presented a sympathetic medical view of homosexuality as a natural thing. Oh, it also staged a flamboyant drag queen ball, with largely improvised dialogue and a jazz band on stage. Well, what else would you expect from Mae West?

The Drag was shut down after 10 out-of-town performances, and never made it to Broadway, but sold lots of tickets.

Mae West herself had been a male impersonator early in her career.

The Drag was inspired by her many gay friends; she knew their daily struggles to be open about their relationships, and to be accepted for who they were.

When casting the play, she actively sought out gay actors. That caused trouble as well. The actors’ union barred gay men from parts with speaking lines. She auditioned them at a gay bar in Greenwich Village. In her autobiography, she claimed to have “helped a lot of gay boys along” by casting them at a time when “producers never gave speaking parts to homosexuals”.

The play opened in Connecticut. It was a success with audiences, although Variety called it “an inexpressibly brutal and vulgar attempt to capitalise on a dirty matter for profit”.

One Broadway producer said it was “the worst possible play I have ever heard of contemplating an invasion of New York” and that it “strikes at the heart of decency”.

West rewrote the play a year later as “The Pleasure Man”, making the lead character straight, but she still faced criticism for it being too explicit, and ended up in court.

Mae West was born on August 17, 1893 and died on November 22, 1980.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jul/05/polly-stenham-mae-west-gay-pride-the-drag-national-theatre

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/five-gay-plays-changed-world/

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David Is Homosexual

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A clip from the film | Dave Belton/CHE | 17122

The film “David Is Homosexual” was made for the Lewisham branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. The film was written by Wilfred Avery and filmed by Dave Belton.

An educational film, made in 1976, it tells the coming-out story of the titular David, a repressed office worker whose mum and dad scream abuse at the telly when gay rights marches appear on the news.

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During filming | Copyright control | 17123

“David Is Homosexual” had a long lifespan, touring the country until 1979. At a screening for trainee gas fitters and plumbers at a technical college, the filmmakers were greeted with a chorus of “Backs to the wall, lads” when setting up their equipment. After seeing the film, the quizzical apprentices had softened their tone. “Are you two lovers, then?” asked one, genuinely interested, from the back.

The Lewisham branch of the CHE and other groups helped raise funds for the film with jumble sales.

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2017/jun/18/glad-to-be-gay-the-story-of-the-filming-of-david-is-homosexual

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The British Library’s gay secrets

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A scene from “My beautiful laundrette” | Oliver Stapleton | 17102

A new exhibition at the British Library, London, “Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty” explores Britain’s evolving attitudes towards homosexuality. Original literary manuscripts and rare prints of newspapers and novels document the “transformation in society’s attitudes towards gay love and expression”.

A memo from the lord chamberlain’s office, dated October 1958, proposed marginally greater freedom for gay playwrights. “For some time the subject of homosexuality has been so widely debated, written about and talked about, that it is no longer justifiable to continue the strict exclusion of this subject from the stage. … I therefore propose to allow plays which make a serious and sincere attempt to deal with the subject.”

The exhibition includes a manifesto from the Gay Liberation Front, notebooks and journals from writers including Sarah Waters, Kenneth Williams and WH Auden, a never-before-seen annotated script by Hanif Kureishi for the Oscar-nominated film “My Beautiful Laundrette”, and the first edition of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/01/british-library-explores-changing-attitudes-to-gay-love-in-exhibition


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John Hervey

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John Hervey was a key figure in 18th Century British Politics.

Born into aristoracy as the second Baron of Ickworth, he became a Member of Parliament for the Whig Party and held appointments including Lord Privy Seal.

His close friend Princess Caroline became Queen to King George II.

Hervey was bisexual, and had a wife who bore him eight children; he had several mistresses, but the love of his life was Stephen Fox.

The satirical poet Alexander Pope was jealous of Hervey’s friendship with a lady who had rejected him, and wrote a poem “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” in which he portrayed Hervey as Sporus, a young Roman who was castrated by Emperor Nero who then married him.

Pope’s poem became a template for putdowns of gay men, creating the stereotype of gay men being effeminate and camp.

A new book, “The Collected Verse of John, Lord Hervey” collects together for the first time Hervey’s own poetry, including this poem he wrote to Stephen Fox in 1731:

For not the Joy of Beauty’s open arms
Nor other friendships, nor Ambition’s charms
Defraud thy Empire of the smallest part
In this engross’d, this undivided Heart
You rule unshaken on that worthless Throne
My life the tenure, and the whole thy own.

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The Rt Hon John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey PC, born on 13 October 1696 and died on 5 August 1743.


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Tate Bares All

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The Critics | Henry Scott Tuke | Warwick District Council

London’s Tate Britain is preparing its first show dedicated to “queer art” -“Queer British Art 1861-1967”. It is almost 50 years since the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales.

“We have works which demonstrate lots of different attitudes, from anxiety to celebration,” Curator Clare Barlow told the Observer, adding that other items came to acquire notoriety by accident. Walter Crane’s languorous 1877 painting, The Renaissance of Venus, is a good example. “Crane’s wife did not want him viewing or drawing nude women, so instead he used a well-known young male model, Alessandro di Marco, to stand in for the goddess of love.”

The exhibition includes a full-length portrait of Oscar Wilde by Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington, given to the writer as a wedding present by the artist and now being shown publicly in Britain for the first time. Next to it is Oscar’s prison cell door.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is at Tate Britain, London SW1P, from 5 April to 1 October 2017.


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Gilbert Baker dies

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Gilbert Baker | Pride Winnipeg | 17063

Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco-based activist and artist best known for creating the rainbow flag representing gay rights, has died at the age of 65. He was living in New York.

Baker, who was born in Kansas in 1951, was stationed in San Francisco in the early 1970s while serving in the US Army, at the start of the gay rights movement.

According to the website biography Baker began making banners for gay rights and anti-war protests, often at the request of Harvey Milk, who would become the first openly gay man elected to public office in California when he won the 1977 race for a seat on the San Francisco board of supervisors.

Milk rode under the first rainbow flags made by Baker at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/31/gilbert-baker-rainbow-flag-inventor-gay-rights-dies


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When we rise

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A scene from “When we rise” | ABC Television | 17038

“When we rise” is a four part television series made for American television by film producer Dustin Lance Black for ABC television, which was commissioned by ABC in 2012. When We Rise” is a 50-year history of the gay rights movement told through four characters who suffer — and often triumph over — family rejection, landlord discrimination, gay-bashing, police harassment, legislative defeats and AIDS.

The New York Times notes:

“We’ve reached the stage in the L.G.B.T. movement when a network not only feels comfortable taking this on — but doing so in a big way,” said Eric Marcus, a gay historian who produces the Making Gay History podcast and is preparing his own multipart documentary on the movement.

Torie Osborn, a longtime gay and lesbian rights leader who was active in San Francisco during struggles depicted in the movie, said, “I hope this is a moment for our allies to learn about our history and young gay men and lesbians to learn about their history.”

“This is a story that could have been told before,” she said, adding: “Better late than never.”

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San Francisco, 1983 | Bettman/Getty Images | 17039

Mr. Black focuses largely on San Francisco. New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, Minneapolis and other cities also played parts in the American gay story.

The four characters who form the frame of Mr. Black’s story are Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Richard Socarides, and Dr. Charles W. Socarides, who helped to have homosexuality declassified as a mental illness.

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Dustin Lance Black | Andrew Testa/The New York Times | 17040

Mr. Black said that if he had learned anything from this work, it is that the gay rights movement is a story of triumphs followed by setbacks. Mr. Trump’s election, he said, is just another turn in this road.

“We are in a period of backlash right now,” he said. “I would give anything for this to be less topical. But this series shows our history is a pendulum, not a straight line.”


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Gay motorcycle clubs celebrated

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Five Blue Max Motorcycle Club members in uniform jackets and Pickelhauben helmets seated on Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycles at curb in Glendale, California, c. 1970 | One/USC Archive | 17033

An exhibition opening at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, “Sprayed with Tears”, delves into the history of Southern California’s gay motorcycle clubs. These were popular underground clubs throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Some of them that are active today.

Using material from the ONE Archives, artist collective Die Kränken focuses on one of these clubs, Blue Max, and re-stages a performance that took place there annually between 1968 and 1993: “The Rose of No Man’s Land,” where a World War I fighter pilot is nursed back to health by a Red Cross nurse, played by a club member in drag.

There will also be a video of the Black Pipe, an LA gay leather bar that was raided by the police in 1972, and a display of screen-printed handkerchiefs that were used for the “hanky code,” a surreptitious method of communicating sexual desire by placing color-coded handkerchiefs in one’s rear pants pocket.

The Satyrs Motorcycle Club are thought to be the “oldest running gay men’s motorcycle club” in the world, dating back to 1954.

The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives is at the USC Libraries, 909 West Adams Blvd, University Park, Los Angeles.

http://hyperallergic.com/357473/an-exhibition-mines-the-history-of-socals-gay-motorcycle-clubs/


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Polari explained

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Julian and Sandy, 1970s, LP Cover | Copyright control | 17032

Paul Baker, an authority on Polari, having studied it for some time, has provided Scroll/The Conversation with a brief history of the language. To summarise:

Polari has now largely fallen out of use, but was historically spoken by gay men and female impersonators.

Polari developed first in the world of entertainment, West End theatres and 19th-century music halls, travelling entertainers and market-stall holders, and was based on Parlyaree which had roots in Italian and rudimentary forms of language used for communication by sailors around the Mediterranean, which found its way into Britain, especially London and port cities, and gradually became used by gay men and female impersonators, especially during the first half of the 20th century. In England, gays added Cockney Rhyming Slang, backslang (pronouncing a word as if it was spelt backwards), French, Yiddish and American airforce slang to Polari.

It was useful as a means of conducting conversations in public spaces, which would have alerted others to your sexuality at a time when homosexual acts were illegal.

“Vada the naff strides on the omee ajax” meant look at the awful trousers on the man nearby. Inserting a Polari word – such as bona (good) or palone (woman) – into a sentence could act as a coded way of identifying other people who might be gay. The language itself, full of camp, irony, innuendo and sarcasm, also helped its speakers to form a resilient worldview in the face of arrest, blackmail and physical violence.

In the 1970s, in a gay magazine called Lunch, activists branded Polari as ghettoising and it gradually became surplus to requirements. In 2000, Baker carried out a survey of 800 gay men and found about half the respondents had never heard of Polari.

In recent years however, there has been renewed interest in Polari. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence created a Polari Bible, running a Polari wordlist through a computer program on an English version of the Bible.

Paul Baker is the Professor of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University.

https://scroll.in/article/828942/a-brief-history-of-polari-a-language-for-gay-men-and-its-curious-afterlife


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Hackney’s gay collection

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Some of the items owned by Hackney Museum | Gary Manhine/Hackney Council | 17030

Hackney Museum has decided it doesn’t have enough gay history in its archive, and has launched a project to discover more of the London borough’s gay past. Emma Winch, Hackney Museum’s heritage learning manager, told an event to celebrate gay history month: “Young people tell us museums don’t do enough to collect and share LGBTQI history. This, and the lack of representation in the national curriculum, is unacceptable. It has an effect on their identity and confidence.”

Musician I’m Empire was at the launch to give a speech on his experience of coming out as a queer man in Hackney’s black community, while street artist Stik shared his memories of the queer “safe house” community in Dalston Lane.

Stik described how he first arrived in London in 2001 after “spectacularly crashing and burning” and joined a group squatting then-derelict London Fields Lido, sleeping in a wooden art shipping container. “I came to Hackney because it was somewhere possible to live and I found an accepting and vibrant community,” he said.

A house in Dalston Lane was a hub for wild parties. “Our parties like Behind Bars and Queeruption fundraisers were the most radical punk and progressive things I have ever seen, and there’s no way we could get away with such subversive actions nowadays.”

http://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/heritage/hackney_museum_launches_drive_to_collect_more_of_borough_s_gay_history_with_inspiring_talks_from_stik_and_i_m_empire_1_4875508


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