TODAY IN HISTORY:
Police Woman “Flowers of Evil” Episode Airs: 1974. When NBC’s hour-long action drama Police Woman starring Angie Dickinson began airing in 1974, it was so popular that even its reruns in the spring and summer of 1975 ranked number one in the Nielsen ratings. It was first successful police drama to feature a woman in the starring role. Dickinson’s unabashed sex appeal, undoubtedly, played a far greater role in its success than the plot lines themselves. One particularly odious episode, “Flowers of Evil,” had Dickinson’s character, Sgt. Pepper Anderson, investigating a trio of lesbians who run a retirement home where they murdered and robbed their elderly residents.
To add insult to injury, the Police Woman episode aired one month to the day after a similarly negative plot line appeared on ABC’s Marcus Welby, M.D., in which a child molester was portrayed as gay (see Oct 8). Police Woman’s “Flowers of Evil” was originally scheduled to air on October 25, but after the National Gay Rights Task Force organized national protests and advertisers began canceling, NBC pulled the episode for re-editing. But with the filming wrapped up, the edits were mostly cosmetic. After the episode aired on November 8, TV Guide called it “the single most homophobic show to date.” A week later, a group known as Lesbian Feminist Liberation occupied NBC’s Standards and Practices office overnight, unfurled a banner from an office window reading “Lesbians Protest NBC.” Advocates continued to negotiate with NBC for several more months, and NBC finally agreed in 1975 to not rebroadcast the episode during re-runs and to withhold it from syndication. The “Flowers of Evil” episode re-appeared again, but only after thirty years had passed, in the Season 1 DVD box set where in today’s context it can be safely viewed as a historic and cultural artifact.
Harvey Milk Elected to San Francisco Board of Supervisors: 1977. Newspapers across American carried this two-paragraph news item a few days after election day:
Homosexual Elected to Supervisors’ Board
San Francisco (AP) — Harvey Milk Tuesday became the first avowed homosexual to be elected to the city’s board of supervisors, some 25 years afte he was discharged by the navy when it learned he was gay. Mr. Milk, 47, a camera store owner, said Wednesday, “I’m a symbol of hope for gays and all minorities. My election, against all the odds, shows that the system can work and that there is hope.”
Mr Milk defeated a field of 17 candidates which included several other gays and former San Francisco 49ers football player Bob St. Clair.
This was Milk’s third run for Supervisor. He lost in 1973 and 1975 when all six Supervisor seats were elected in city-wide at-large elections where the top six vote getters joined the board. He also ran for the State Assembly in 1976, but lost in a close race. In 1977, San Francisco switched to single-member districts, and Milk won a seat on the Board of Supervisors on his third try.
Networks Reject PFLAG Ads as Offensive: 1995. Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays created at least three television ads to address the effect of anti-gay rhetoric on bullying and suicide. (According to Commercial Closet, the ads were this, this, and this – but only the last one matches the descriptions provided in news reports.) One of those ads, “Guns,” featured a teenage girl rummaging through her parents’ bedroom looking for a gun. Another ad featured a young man being beaten by bullies (that ad does not appear to be online.) Those images were disturbing enough. But what made the ads particularly controversial was that intercut between those images were video clips of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). The “Guns” ad, for example, went like this:
(Young woman enters her parents’ bedroom)
Jerry Falwell: Homosexuality is moral perversion and is always wrong. God hates homosexuality.
(Young woman frantically searchers dresser drawers and linen closet)
Pat Robertson: Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of these people is appalling. It is a pathology. It is a sickness.
(Young woman finds a gun in a cedar chest)
Jesse Helms: A lot of us are sick and tired of all of the pretenses of injured innocence. They are not innocent.
(Young woman holds gun and cries.)
Announcer: It is estimated that thirty percent of teenage suicide victims are gay or lesbian.
(PFLAG logo appears)
The ad drew a direct threat from Bruce Hausknecht, associate general counsel for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network. “The spots contain defamatory material and cast Pat Robertson and CBN in a false light by implying that Pat advocates/promotes heinous crimes against gays or directly caused the suicide of one or more homosexual persons. This is outrageously false and severely damaging to the reputation of Dr. Robertson and this ministry.” Hauskenecht warned that if the ads were aired, CBN would “immediately seek judicial redress against your station,” including injunctions and monetary damages. As a result, the ads were rejected by eight stations in Washington, D.C., Tulsa, Houston and Atlanta, and by CNN, which had tentatively accepted them for Larry King Live. Some of those stations did accept the companion ad depicting the young man being beaten.
PFLAG criticized stations for not airing the ad. Pointing out that talk radio was filled with anti-gay statements on a regular basis, PFLAG’s board president Mitzi Henderson said, “These people (Falwell, Robertson and Helms) are particularly accessible and public. We think they’re representative of a variety of sources. … We wanted to say, ‘Wake up and join us in opposing hate speech.’”
PFLAG executive director Sandra Gillis said that Tulsa, Atlanta and Houston were chosen “because they’re heartland america. Mainstream, middle Americans are not an intolerant lot. They don’t realize the level of abuse and violence against gays and lesbians.” She said the campaign’s message was “watch your words. They can create a climate in which violent people think their violent action is okay.”
Charles Demuth: 1883. An important modernist watercolorist and oil painter, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania native studied at Drexel University and the Pensylvania Academy of Fine arts before moving on to Académie Colarossi and Académie Julian in Paris. While in Paris, Demuth became part of the avant garde scene. While that exposure proved profoundly influential, Demuth didn’t stay in Paris long, just a little over a year. He came back home to Lancaster where he remained for the rest of his life, although he continued to travel frequently to Provincetown, New York, Philadelphia and, occasionally, to Europe. While in New York, he frequented Lafayette Baths, which likely inspired his 1918 homoerotic Turkish Bath with Self Portrait. But ill health in 1921 while in Europe forced his return to the U.S., where he was treated for diabetes, becoming one of the first people in the U.S. to take regular insulin injections. Ill health would plague him for the rest of his life.
His first solo show was in 1926 at the Anderson Gallery in New York, followed by another one at Intimate Gallery, which was run by his friend Alfred Stieglitz. His most famous painting, The Figure Five in Gold, was inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Great Figure.” The Wall Street Journal’s Judith Dobrzynsky described its importance:
It’s the best work in a genre Demuth created, the “poster portrait”. It’s a witty homage to his close friend, the poet William Carlos Williams, and a transliteration into paint of his poem, “The Great Figure”. It’s a decidedly American work made at a time when U.S. artists were just moving beyond European influences. It’s a reference to the intertwined relationships among the arts in the 1920s, a moment of cross-pollination that led to American Modernism. And it anticipates pop art.
He created other poster portraits to honor several of his friends: Gertrude Stein, Eugene O’Neil, Georgia O’Keefe, Marsden Hartley among them, and his work was identified as part of the Precisionism movement, a distinctly American style of painting that was influenced by the industrialization and modernization of the American landscape. In 1927, he started a series of painting depicting industrial and agricultural structures in Lancaster. His last painting in the series, After All, was completed in 1933. He died two hears later at the age of 51.
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