The Daily Agenda for Thursday, January 10

Jim Burroway

January 10th, 2013

Events This Weekend: Arosa Gay Ski Week, Arosa Switzerland; Aspen Gay Ski Week, Aspen, CO; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Utah Gay and Lesbian Ski Week, Park City, UT; Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, Washington, DC.

Gore Vidal’s “The City and The Pillar” Published: 1948. It turns out that the month of January, 1948 was a rather scandalous month for the American Public. On January 5, Sexual Behavior In the Human Male, the first of the the two Kinsey Reports, was released. Then just five days later, Gore Vidal’s novel, The City and the Pillar came out. Vidal wrote this novel, his third, at the relatively tender age of twenty-one, and it was the first mainstream novel dealing with homosexuality in its central characters. It was, in its day a kind of a Brokeback Mountain, a coming of age story in which the main protagonist awakens to his sexuality. Gore also smashed the prevailing stereotyes of the day by portraying the central characters as masculine. I guess both books coming out within the space of less than a week was too much for the New York Times. Their review the next day went like this:

Presented as the case history of a standard homosexual, this novel adds little that is new to a groaning shelf. Mr. Vidal’s approach is coldly clinical: there is no real attempt to involve the reader’s emotions, as the author sets down Jimmie’s life story — his first experience during his high school days, his life as a cabin boy, a tennis bum, his adventures in Hollywood and points East. Backdrops are gaudy, and Jimmie’s more ardent acquaintances include a picture star (the idol of a million bobby soxers), a fashionable novelist and members of the armed forces. But the over-all picture is as unsensational as it is boring…

Boring. Perhaps the worst thing that could be said about any novel, if anything was to be said at all. Most papers refused to review it, but a few saw it as a triumph. The Washington Post called it “an artistic achievement” and the Atlantic Monthly said it was “a brilliant exposé of subterranean life.” Despite it’s “subterranean” themes and The New York Times’ great displeasure, The City and the Pillar nevertheless made it to the best-seller’s list. The Times so thoroughly disliked it that it refused to run ads for it and ignored Vidal’s next five books. Cut off from an important promotion vehicle, Gore  resorted to writing several mystery novels in the early 1950s under the pseudonym Edgar Box.

Although the gay characters’ portrayals in The City and the Pillar were generally positive, the tone was dark and the ending tragic, with the main character being murdered by his lover. It’s been widely reported that the publishers forced Vidal to change the ending to an unhappy one, but Gore himself denies this. But twenty years later, he published the novel again as The City and the Pillar, Revised and changed the overall tone to be less dark.

Episcopal Church Ordains First Open Lesbian: 1977. Before Bishop Paul Moore of New York ordained Rev. Ellen Marie Barrett as a priest in his Episcopal diocese, there is a point in the service in which the ordaining bishop asks the congregation, “If any of you know any impediment or crime because of which we should not proceed, come forward now, and make it known.” Rev. James Wattley, who was an active opponent of the church’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood, rose to denounce the ordination as a “travesty and a scandal.” He went on: “my objection is for myself alone on the grounds that she is a self-proclaimed lesbian.”

Bishop Moore appeared prepared for the answer. “Attention has been drawn to the ordination because Ms. Barrett has not made a secret of her homosexual orientation,” the Bishop announced. “However, her personal life has never been under criticism. Many persons with homosexual tendencies are presently in the ordained ministry. Ellen Barrett’s candor in this regard is not considered a barrier to ordination. She is highly qualified intellectually, morally and spiritually. … Historically, many of the finest clergy in our church have had this personality structure, but only recently has the social climate made it possible for some to be open about it.”

Rev. Barrett’s ordination sparked another round of controversy in a church still split over its 1976 decision to admit women to the priesthood. Within a month of Barrett’s ordination, nine parishes announced they were leaving the church. In an unusual move, one Florida pastor read out an “excommunication decree” from the altar of his church against Bishop Moore and Rev. Barrett.

The following October, the church’s House of Bishops sought to calm the controversy with a resolution declaring that gay people should not be ordained as priests, saying that such an ordination would “require the Church’s sanction of such a lifestyle not only as acceptable but worthy of emulation.” The House of Bishops also gave a nearly unanimous consent to another resolution to support Bishops who “by their own conscience” refuse to ordain women priests or allow them to serve in their dioceses. But in a 28-62 vote, the House refused to censure Bishop Moore, and in a 49-68 vote refused to advise California Bishop Kilmer Myers against licensing Rev. Barrett in his diocese. Thus the precedent was set, and bishops continued ordaining openly gay priests under the same “conscience” principle which permitted other bishops to bar women from the altar.

Johnnie Ray: 1927
. When his career broke open in 1951, he was quickly dubbed “The Prince of Wails” in a nod to his highly emotional brand of white R&B. His intense performances forshadowed the energy of Rock And Roll which would hit the charts hard a few years later. Ray’s first hits, “Cry,” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried”, were sides A and B of his first single, with both sides dominating the charts for several months. They were followed by a string of a couple dozen top-forty hits through 1957. He married very briefly in 1952, a marriage that ended a year later. His wife knew he was gay going in — he had been arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer in Detroit for sex before his career took off — but the aspiring Mrs. Ray was confident she could “straighten him out.” All the while, it appears that Rays true long-term relationship was with his manager, Bill Franklin.

His popularity in the U.S. faded by the late ’50s, but he continued to do well in the UK, where his show at the Palladium became legendary. But by 1960, his star began to fade, dimmed by alcoholism and a bout of turberculosis. There was a brief possibility of a revival in the early 1970s, but it turned out to be short lived. Frankin left him in 1976 and cut off all contact a few years later. By the time the 1980s rolled around, gen-X’ers had little idea of who he was except for a line in the 1982 hit “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. (“Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio / he moved a million hearts in mono.”). He died of liver failure in 1990.

Here is a performance of “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” When you watch this, imagine seeing it in 1951 when the top acts that year included Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett — five years before Elvis.

Sal Mineo: 1939. He was a talented young actor who some say peaked with his first major role as John “Plato” Crawford in Rebel Without a Cause, the 1955 classic staring James Dean and Natalie Wood. That role got him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. He also appeared in another James Dean vehicle Giant as a Mexican boy, and for a while he became typecast as a troubled teen. In 1957, he made a brief stab at pop music, and in 1959, he appeared as the famous jazz drummer Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story. He received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the epic Exodus in 1960. By the late 1960s, Mineo became one of the first Hollywood actors to acknowledge his homosexuality. He died in 1976, stabbed to death during a mugging as he was walking home from a rehearsal in West Hollywood. He was only 37.

But back to Rebel Without A Cause. By the time I saw the film for the first time as a teenager in the late 1970s, I had already read a lot about the classic. Critics and observers wrote about the movie’s themes of alienation, aimless adolescence, the ambivalence of impending adulthood — all those things and more. And so when the movie appeared on television one night (remember, this was before you could rent movies on VHS), I was unprepared for what looked to be the most obvious theme of the movie: the sexual tension between Sal Mineo and James Dean. At the time I had no idea that Mineo was gay or that Dean was bi. But seeing their chemistry together on the screen, it was so bright, so combustible, so obvious! Well good lord, why wasn’t anybody talking about that? Yeah, I know. I would later find out that others noticed it too. But remember, this was the 1970s and I was growing up in Appalachia. And man, what an eye-opener.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


January 10th, 2013

How is Exodus a “sandal epic”?


January 10th, 2013

I thought calling Exodus a ‘sandal epic’ absolutely hilarious! Thanks for that Jim!


January 10th, 2013

Re: Poor Old Johnny Ray, indeed. I’ve always loved Alan Vanneman’s line about him in his review of the movie “There’s No Business Like Show Business”:

“Ray, an early fifties pop sensation, is often cited as a halfway point between Sinatra and Elvis. He had a huge hit with “Cry,” which consisted largely of him sobbing. Ray’s fans are apparently all dead, because I’ve never read anything kind about him.”

Jim Burroway

January 10th, 2013

Oops. I had never seen Exodus, and got it confused with something else. How embarrassing….

Kevin F.

January 10th, 2013

Sal Mineo was in The Greatest Story Ever Told. That’s definitely a sandal epic.

Jim Burroway

January 10th, 2013

That’s probably what I was getting Exodus confused with.

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