The Daily Agenda for Sunday, February 9
February 9th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Los Angeles theater opened in 1911 as the Alvarado Theatre on its namesake street just off MacArthur Park. In the 1960s, it was renamed the Park Theatre when it switched to porn. In 1968, the theater switched to gay-themed movies (including porn as well as art house movies). That switch was announced in June when the theater announced “A Most Unusual Male Film Festival,” which is believed to be the first gay film festival in a regular public theater. The Park continued to show gay films until 1971, when it was renovated into a twin theater and returned to mainstream films. The theater closed in 1986. The building is still there, although its glory days are long gone.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
AIDS Employment Discrimination Declared Illegal in California: 1987. In the first such case in the nation, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission unanimously ordered that the defense contractor Raytheon pay damages of about $6,000 to a Santa Barbara employee who was denied reinstatement to work following hospitalization due to an AIDS-related illness. John Chadbourne was given medical leave in December 19983 when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was diagnosed with AIDS one month later. He recovered from pneumonia and his doctor said he healthy enough to return to work, but his employer would not reinstate him without assurances that other employees would not be endangered. Instead, Raytheon kept him on medical leave, which meant that he retained his benefits (including medical insurance), but was living on significantly reduced income from his disability insurance. The Commission ruled that AIDS is a disability under the law and employers may not discriminate against people with AIDS who are able to work. With that ruling, Chadbourne was vindicated — or at least his estate was. Chadbourne died in January 1985, two years before the Commission’s ruling.
Raytheon went on to significantly improve its policies toward LGBT people and people with AIDS, becoming the first defense contractor to earn a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2005.
140 YEARS AGO: Amy Lowell: 1874-1925. Her pedigree was impeccable: her family were those Lowells, of Brookline, Massachusetts. Her brother, Lawrence, was president of Harvard; another brother, Percival, was a renowned mathematician and astronomer, founder of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and who began the effort which led to the discovery of Pluto fourteen years after his death. Amy, born and reared at Seveneies, the ten-acre family estate, was the baby of the family. Befitting a daughter of a fine Episcopalian family of New England, she was first tutored at home, then attended the best private schools in Boston when she was not touring Europe with her family. At seventeen, her family decided that attending college was not a proper activity for a young woman, so she ensconced herself in the family’s 7,000-volume library at Seveneis and taught herself literature.
In 1902, on one of her many tours of Europe, she was inspired to take up poetry. In 1910, her work began appearing in Atlantic Monthly, and her first published collection, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, was published two years later. At about that time, she and actress Ada Dwyer Russell entered what was then known as a “Boston Marriage,” and they remained together for the rest of Lowell’s life. It is believed that Russell is the subject of Lowell’s love poems in ’Two Speak Together’, from Pictures of the Floating World.
During one of the couple’s European tours, they met the Imagist poet Ezra Pound. Lowell embraced the Imagist style, so named by the precise use of visual images to convey a clarity of expression. It was also marked by free verse, where, according to Lowell, “one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.” Then an Anglo-American movement, Lowell’s contribution to the style was in what she called “polyphonic prose,” in which the very written structure of the poetry was broken down and rendered as prose, which was then sometimes intermixed with structured verse. Her embrace and promotion of Imagist Poetry was so intense that it actually had the effect of driving a wedge between Pound and the Imagists, who he began derisively calling “Amygists.” His criticism of Lowell became pointedly personal. Referring to her short stature, her glandular-induced weight problems (and, undoubtedly, put off by her habit of smoking cigars), Pound referred to her as the “hippo-poetess” among his friends and accused her of hijacking the movement.
While Lowell remained dedicated to modern poetry, she was also a fan of historical poets as well. In Fir-Flower Tablets, she produced prose-poetry re-workings of the literal translations of ancient Chinese poetry, and she wrote several critical works about French literature. When she died in 1925 of a brain hemorrhage at Seveneies, she left behind an uncompleted two-volume biography of John Keats, with whom she undoubtedly felt a kinship. “The stigma of oddness,” she wrote of him, “is the price a myopic world always exacts of genius.” Her own genius was recognized posthumously with a 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for What’s O’Clock.
80 YEARS AGO: Pat Rocco: 1934. Pasquale Vincent Serrapica was born in Brooklyn and moved with his family to California in 1946, where he quickly got a twice weekly radio show on Pasadena’s KWKW while still a teen. He also completed his high school credits at home after refusing to deny his homosexuality in school. And so it might be surprising to learn that while in his twenties, he met with a local Youth for Christ director, who got him a singing gig for the religious group, a stint for which he even reacorded an album of devotional musice in 1954. By this time, Pasquale became Pat Rocco, and for the remainder of the 1050s he toured for musicals and appeared as a regular for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.
During this time, Rocco became interested in photography and film and in 1967, he answered an ad to shoot stills of nude male models. Seeing the potential of a significant money-making enterprise, he created his own business, Bizarre Production, and began creating and selling photos and erotic movies by mail order. The films got the attention of the Park Theater in Los Angeles, which was interested in creating a special lineup of films for a gay audience. Rocco’s Love is Blue premiered on a bill with several other avant-garde gay films on June 26, 1968 as part of A Most Unusual Male Film Festival, in what it is believed to be the first gay film festival in a public theater.
Rocco’s films stood out for not falling into the typical blue movie formulas. His films focused on the beauty of the male form and featured storylines with positive depictions of male intimacy. While his films were explicitly nude, they skirted the edges of soft porn to such a degree that many complained that his movies didn’t go far enough. But others appreciated Rocco’s sensual and more well-rounded approach. Several of Roccos fans formed the Society of Pat Rocco Enlightened Enthusiasts, or SPREE, in 1968, which remained active for the next ten years publishing newsletters and mounting stage and film events. Meanwhile, Rocco’s films were a regular feature at the Park Theatre until 1971, when the Park decided to return to a more mainstream audience.
Rocco also performed an important service for the local gay community by creating short documentaries of gay rights protests and interviews of local figures. But as fictional gay films became more explicit during the 1970s, Rocco spurned the opportunity to go into hardcore porn. Instead, he turned his attention to photographing and documenting events in Southern California for gay publications. He also became increasingly involved with gay rights advocacy. He campaigned for the resumption of the Christopher Street West Pride Parade, and he organized fundraising events for numerous organizaitons and gay rights causes. He developed a special interest in providing emergency housing in Los Angeles and established his own program, Hudson House, to provide housing, job training and meals for homeless LGBT youth. Hudson House soon spread to San Diego, San Francisco, and Hawaii. Rocco and his partner have retired to Hawaii, where they continue to be active in the local community.
Holly Johnson: 1960. When the Liverpool-based band Frankie Goes to Hollywood released its first single “Relax,” with Holly Johnson on vocals, in October 1983, it took a slow three months before it hit the top of the UK singles chart. It’s rise to number one was helped along, ironically, by BBC 1 disk jockey Mike Read, who happened to notice what he called the “overtly sexual” nature of record sleeve and the printed lyrics as the single was playing. He unceremoniously lifted the tonearm, live on air, and denounced it as “obscene.” The BBC followed that with an on-air ban on all of its radio and television outlets (with the narrow exception of its top-40 countdown show). Until then, “Relax” had been a middling top-40 dance hit, but within two weeks it hit number one and remained there for the next five. It became the seventh best selling single in UK single’s history, and the temporarily ubiquitous “Frankie Say” T-shirts became not just a musical statement but a political one as well. The Beeb finally relented and lifted its ban at the end if 1984, just as a re-worked version of “Relax” was enjoying a second bout of popularity with the release of the band’s album Welcome to the Pleasuredome.
Johnson left Frankie in 1987 over differences in the group’s musical direction. After a bitter contract dispute, Johnson was finally able to start a solo career in 1989. His first album, Blast, met with some critical and commercial success, but his 1991 album Dream That Money Can’t Buy tanked. That year, he learned he was HIV-positive and withdrew from public life. Later that decade, he re-emerged as an occasional singer and, mainly, as a painter, with shows at the Tate Liverpool and the Royal Academy.
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