The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 7

Jim Burroway

March 7th, 2013

Events This Weekend: Belgian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; Ft. Lauderdale Pride, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; AIDS Walk, Houston, TX; Lake Tahoe Winterfest, Lake Tahoe, NV; SWING Gay Ski Week, Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

Mike Wallace, host of “The Homosexuals.”

CBS Airs “The Homosexuals”: 1967. Described as “the single most destructive hour of anti-gay propaganda in our nation’s history,” the special was produced by the prestigious CBS Reports, an award-winning series that grew out of the game show scandals of the 1950s. CBS Reports was set up to use its hour-long format to delve into subjects which were deemed too controversial for other programs, and “The Homosexuals,” which took three years to complete, would be the first nationally-broadcast program introducing the American audience to gay people.

After completing a rough cut, the producers approached CBS correspondent Mike Wallace. At first, Wallace declined, saying that he wanted no part in a program that would “pity the poor homosexual.” But after seeing the rough cut, which portrayed gay people in a relatively neutral light, he agreed to host the special. But higher ups at CBS were skittish about letting it go on the air. At one point, the special was killed, and all of the positive footage from interviews gathered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and New York City was axed along with it. When CBS decided to revive it in 1965, the producers started over. This time, they found gay people to interview on the East Coast: Lars Larson in New York, and Washington, D.C., gay rights activists Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols. Nichols appeared under the pseudonym of Warren Adkins because his real name was identical to his father’s, who worked at the FBI. Nichols later recalled:

Jack Nichols as “Warren Atkins.”

After we finished and the camera was turned off, Mike Wallace sat down with me and talked for about half an hour. He said, “You know, you answered all of my questions capably, but I have a feeling you don’t really believe that homosexuality is as acceptable as you make it sound.” I asked him why he would say that. “Because,” he said, “In your heart I think you know it’s wrong.” It was infuriating. I told him I thought being gay was fine, but that in his heart he thought it was wrong.

At ten o’clock on Tuesday night, not long after the closing credits of Petticoat Junction, viewers across American watched as Mike Wallace declared:

The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one–chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city — the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship. And the homosexual prostitute has become a fixture in the downtown streets at night. On street corners, at subway exits, these young men signal their availability for pay.

Charles Socarides

The documentary featured psychotherapist Charles Socarides, who would go on to become an outspoken critic of the APA’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. He would also help to co-found the National Association for Research and Treatment (later Therapy) of Homosexuality (NARTH). His appearance was filmed in a classroom at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, set up as though he was taking spontaneous questions from a group of psychiatric residents. One woman was shown asking if there were any “happy homosexuals.” Socarides responded, “The fact that somebody’s homosexual — a true obligatory homosexual — automatically rules out the possibility that he will remain happy for long, in my opinion.” He characterized happiness among gay people as “a mythology.” Irving Bieber, who was among the forefront of psycholanalysts claiming high success rates in “curing” gay people, blamed homosexuality on parents. “I do not believe it is possible to produce a homosexual if the father is a warm, good, supportive, constructive father to his son.”  Missing from the program was any mental health professional to disagree or counter Socarides or Bieber, leaving the impression that the entirety of psychology stood behind these two men.

Albert Goldman

The documentary traded in a number of other stereotypes. One portion examined whether a “homosexual mafia” existed in the creative arts. Gore Vidal appeared on camera to denounce the stereotype as “nonsense,” but of course he would say that;  he’s one of them. Columbia University Professor Albert Goldman provided the “straight” rebuttal, contending that homosexuals were responsible for distorting the theater, art, and fashion as a way of striking back at the heterosexual majority. (Two decades later, Goldman would gain notoriety for publishing a biography of John Lennon, claiming that the former Beatle was “a violent, schizophrenic drug addict.”)

But it was a fourth gay man, a closeted homosexual whose early appearance in the program, his face obscured by a potted plant casting a dark shadow across his face, made the most memorable appearance in the film. He was described as being twenty-seven years old and college educated, and “unable to hold a job because of his inability to contain his homosexual inclinations. Wallace said that he had been in jail three times “for committing homosexual acts. If he is arrested once more, he faces the possibility of life in prison. He is now on probation and in psychotherapy.” The young man described himself this way:

The man behind the potted palm.

I felt as though I had license to satisfy every need, every desire, every tension… animal sexual gratification… I use the word “sick” — I’m not taking a pot shot, I’m not attempting to judge homoseuxals. I’m not a judge. I know that inside, now, that I am sick. I’m not sick just sexually, I’m sick in a lot of ways …. immature, childlike, and the sex part of it is a symptom like a stomach ache is a symptom of who knows what.”

That man’s appearance was so memorable that today it is often mistakenly said that all of the gay men in the program were similarly photographed.

Wallace closed the program with an interview with another anonymous hidden gay man who was married with two children, and who described his life as one of unrelenting tension and hardship. Wallace then wound up the program saying

The dilemma of the homosexual: told by the medical profession he is sick; by the law that he’s a criminal; shunned by employers; rejected by heterosexual society. Incapable of a fulfilling relationship with a woman, or for that matter with a man. At the center of his life he remains anonymous. A displaced person. An outsider.

In the program’s aftermath, Nichols, despite appearing under an assumed name, was fired from his job the day after the program aired. Larson filed a formal complain and withdrew his signed release, saying that his interview had been edited to make him seem unhappy about being gay. As for Wallace, he would later regret participating in the episode. In 1996, he said, “That is — God help us — what our understanding was of the homosexual lifestyle a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors — that’s what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”

Here is an nine minute edited version from the original episode. The entire episode can be seen here.

[Sources: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 69-73.

Lawrence Laurent. “CBS studies homosexuals.” The Washington Post (March 9, 1967): D23.]

First US Municipal Anti-Discrimination Ordinance: 1972. The very first municipal ordinance providing anti-discrimination protections in employment for gays and lesbians became law not in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but in East Lansing, Michigan. In early 1970, the Gay Liberation Movement had formed at the Michigan State University’s East Lansing campus, where they found fertile ground on a campus which was regarded as one of the most progressive in the nation. In 1970, MSU’s new president became the first African-American to lead a major university, and MSU students were especially active in anti-war protests. The politics of MSU extended into the community, where GLM worked for nearly a year carefully lobbying for an ordinance prohibiting local employers from firing gays and lesbians because of their sexual orientation. The work paid off, with the city council approving the measure 4-1 over the objections of the mayor. Shortly after the vote, GLM founder Don Gaudard boasted, “Not everything happens in San Francisco.”

California Voters Pass Prop 22: 2000. When Prop 22 came before California voters, state law already defined marriage as “a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman.” But California’s law also said that a “marriage contracted outside this state that would be valid by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was contracted is valid in this state,” which anti-gay activists saw as a loophole. Although no state yet offered marriage equality (Vermont was still debating a civil unions bill in early 2000), anti-gay activists feared that same-sex marriage was legalized elsewhere, Californians would flock to that state to get married, and expect those marriages to be recognized back home. Why of all the nerve! Prop 22 added a provision to the California marriage code saying that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” It passed during the March primary by a 61% to 39% margin.

Over the next decade, several challenges to Prop 22 were launched in the courts and the legislature. In 2006, the California Supreme Court agreed to review all of the court cases that challenged state law, and heard oral arguments in March 2008. Six weeks later, the Supreme Court ruled that Prop 22 violated the state constitution and was therefore invalid. By then, anti-gay activists had already begun the process of bringing Prop 8 to the November 2008 ballot, and when the first same-sex marriages were solemnized in July, the campaigns for and against Prop 8 were already well underway. Prop 8 passed in November 2008, but this time by only 52% to 48%. While the ground had shifed by nine percentage points in eight years, it wasn’t enough to prevent same-sex marriages from coming to a halt. A legal challenge to Prop 8’s constitutionality is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on March 26.

Alan Sues: 1926. Campy. Flamboyant. Wacky. And he loved his tinkle. Nobody said “gay,” but that would have described him as accurately as any of the other abjectives attached to his characters in NBC’s hit sketch comedy series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. During his run from 1968 to 1972, Sues played several recurring characters, including the memorable and effeminate sportscaster Big Al, who’d punctuate his sportscasts by rinning a small brass bell and exclaim how much he loved that “tinkle.” He also played the perpetually hung-over Uncle Al the Kiddies’ Pal in a series of sketches designed to parody childrens programs, and once appeared in a drag imitation of fellow cast member Jo Anne Worley. As over the top his perfirmances were, he didn’t disclose publicly that he was gay. Michael Michaud, a friend and administrator for Sues when he died in 2011, told The New York Times, “It wasn’t because he was ashamed of being gay; it was because he was surviving as a performer … He had a ton of gay fans. Many gay men came up to him and said how important he was when they were young because he was the only gay man they could see on television.” Well, maybe not the only gay man — Paul Lynde was also plying much the same shtick for laughs. But the point is taken: forty years ago, there were almost no identifiable gay characters on television.

Seus was born in Ross, California, and he served in the Army in Europe during World War II. When he came home, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to take acting lessons at the Passadena Playhouse. In 1953, he made his Broadway debute in Elia Kazan’s “Tea and Sympathy.” He married, and he and his wife started a vaudevillian-style nightclub act, where he developed some of the characters that would later appear in “Laugh-In.” After he and his wife divorced in the late 1950s, Seus moved to California where he appeared in The Wild Wild West and in a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone. By the late sixties, he was still known as a dramatic actor, but when he joined Jo Ann Worley in an Off Broadway musical comedy, they both caught the attention of producer George Schlatter, who cast them both in Laugh-In.

From then on he became known as something of a manic comedic actor, which reflected his off-camera personality pretty well. Fellow Laugh-In cast member Ruth Buzzi said “Alan Sues was one of those guys even funnier in person than on camera.” Schlatter recalled, “He was a delight. He was an upper. He waked on the stage and everybody just felt happy.” Seus also brought his antics and happy attitude to his role as commercial spokesman for, appropriately, Peter Pan peanut butter. But serious acting roles didn’t dry up completely. In 1975, he plained Moriarity in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Broadway production of “Sherlock Holmes,” a role he cherished for the rest of his life. He died in 2011 of a sudden heart attack at the age of 85.

Wanda Sykes: 1964. The comedian and actress began her professional life in the unlikeliest of places, as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency (NSA). She worked there for five years after college (she has a bachelor’s degree in marketing), while moonlighting at verious standup venues in the Washington, D.C., area. In 1992, she quit her job and moved to New York, working as a book editor for a publishing house. Her big break was when she opened for Chris Rock at a New York comedy club, which led to a job as a writer for The Chris Rock Show. She made seveveral appearances on The Chris Rock Show, Curb Your Enthuseasm, and her own short-lived Fox show Wanda at Large. Other credits include HBO’s Inside the NFL, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Will & Grace. In 2007, her HBO comedy special, Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired was nominated for an emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special. In November, 2008, she publicly came out during a rally in Las Vegas protesting the passage of California’s Proposition 8. Since then she has worked with GLSEN on anti-bullying videos, and has hosted fundraisers for marriage equality.

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?


March 7th, 2013

My favorite Wanda Sykes clip:


March 7th, 2013

I have to wonder, did Mike Wallace ever change his opinion of homosexuals?


March 7th, 2013

Well, I guess I should have read the entire article to get my answer.


March 7th, 2013

As a frightened gay teenager in 1967, I would not have dared to turn the channel to see the this program. I, too, accepted that I was sick.


March 7th, 2013

Charles, if memory serves, Wallace not only changed his opinion, he was later appalled and regretted the piece, and said so publicly. In many respects everyone – gay and straight – were prisoners of their time and environment. What a long way we’ve come.


March 7th, 2013

Ha! I should have read the rest of your thread reminding me to read the rest of the piece before reiterating what was already said.


March 7th, 2013

“I do not believe it is possible to produce a homosexual if the father is a warm, good, supportive, constructive father to his son.”

If only you had followed your own “expert advice,” Dr. Socarides. If only…

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