The Daily Agenda for Friday, May 16

Jim Burroway

May 16th, 2014

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Brussels, Belgium; Chisinau, Moldova; Eilat, Israel; Kraków, Poland; Long Beach, CA; New Hope, PA; São Paulo, Brazil; Springfield, IL.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Poughkeepsie, NY.

Other Events This Weekend: Harvey Milk Day Events, various cities and dates; Bearcelona, Barcelona, Spain; Brighton Heroes Run, Brighton, UK; Bear Watch, Galveston, TX; Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, New Orleans, LA.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Arizona Gay News, May 5, 1977, page 3. Available online here (PDF: 449KB/12 pages).

Tucson’s Front Runner opened in 1977 in the space that had previously been another gay bar, Lucky Pierre’s. The new owners bought the old business, closed it down, and renovated the building into a discotheque featuring a sound system that “has just arrived in time from New York with two direct drive turntables, mixer, tape deck and the best in sound Cerwin Vega speakers.” Early plans included a special promotion called the “weekend workout” from noon to 5 p.m.: anyone wearing cutoffs, shorts or body shirt could get draft beer for 35¢ and bottle beer for 60¢. Today it’s just a generic, nondescript commercial building that’s just sitting there wondering where the party went.

“Homosexual Coed Tries to End Life”: 1950. That was the headline of a brief United Press article, datelined May 16 in Seattle:

A 25-year-old University of Washington co-ed, who police said admitted being a homosexual for the last eight years, was in jail today after threatening to kill herself.

The pretty coed, whose name police refused to divulge, telephoned the police department late yesterday and told officer Kenneth Dahl she had a high-powered 30.06 rifle “and I’m going to use it.”

“I haven’t anything else to live for,” she sobbed hysterically.

Dahl persuaded her to give him her address and he would try to help her out of her trouble. Meanwhile, four prowl cars were sent speeding to the rooming house district adjacent to the university campus. In the basement of one of the houses officers found the woman with the rifle she had taken from a locker.

Detective L.W. Webb said she begged to be locked up. She said she just “gave up” and after quitting school last week decided she might as well kill herself. The woman told officers she had wanted to become a social worker but every time she applied she was turned down because of her affliction. She said she was from Los Angeles and that she had been studying zoology at the university before she quit.

Webb said the girl would be examined by a psychiatrist today and “probably be committed to a mental institution.”

Tamara de Lempicka (top) and “Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti),” 1925 (bottom)

Tamara de Lempicka: 1898-1980. The Polish Art Deco painter known as “la belle Polonaise,” she personified the glamor of the Great Gatsby society of the interwar years. In 1978, The New York Times called her the “Steel-eyed goddess of the automobile age.” Her famous self-portrait, Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) portrayed a woman who was utterly free, independent, and self-assured. Automobiles provided women with a freedom and mobility that they had never known before, and the portrait’s depiction of a 400 horsepower Bugatti added raw speed and power to the mix.

During the roaring twenties, Tamara lived the bohemian life in Paris, hanging out with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide. She was famously, infamously bisexual, and she scandalized society with her very public affairs. She reveled in her notoriety. “I live on the fringe of society,” she announced, “and the rules of normal society have no currency for those on the fringe.”

In 1928, she was commissioned to paint a portrait of the mistress of Baron Raoul Kuffner. By the time she was finished, she replaced the mistress’s position, and eventually became Kuffner’s wife in 1933. In 1939, the couple took an “extended vacation” to America, and ended up staying through the Second World War, where she became a favorite in Hollywood. But by the time the War ended, her style was no longer popular. She switched from using a brush to a pallet knife, but critics savaged her work. She retired from active painting in 1962, determined never to show her work again.

In subsequent years, she not only complained that the paints and materials were now inferior to the “old days,” but that people in the 1970s lacked the qualities and “breeding” that inspired her art. After her husband died, she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1978 to rejoin the society of aging artists and aristocrats. By then, the art world was rediscovering the Art Deco era and her paintings were rediscovered and became highly sought after. She died in 1980, and her ashes were scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl.

Top: Liberace’s signed photo to his mother. He was always Walter to her. Bottom: Liberace’s transparent closet.

95YEARS AGO: Liberace: 1919-1987. Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, he was known as Lee to his friends, Walter to his family, and Liberace to everyone else. His father, a french horn player, loved music but his mother saw it as an unfordable luxury. His father prevailed, taking his children to concerts and insisting on excellence in their music lessons. Liberace later recalled, “My dad’s love and respect for music created in him a deep determination to give as his legacy to the world, a family of musicians dedicated to the advancement of the art.”

On “Mr. Showmanship’s” terms, the advancement of the art took on an entirely new meaning. The word “synonymous” doesn’t do justice to the connection between Liberace’s name and flamboyance. He raised eyebrows by wearing a relatively simple white tuxedo at the Hollywood Bowl in 1952, and he continued to wear it so he could be easily seen in darkened concert halls. But it didn’t take long before that gave way to sequined jackets, then entire rhinestone-encrusted, fur-trimmed monstrosities that were “just one tuck short of drag,” as he put it. In the 1950’s he installed a Plexiglas lid on his piano so as to not obstruct the view; by the 1960s his pianos were often encrusted with jewels and mirrors. And then there was the candelabrum. Always the rococo candelabrum. His entrances at the start of his Las Vegas shows were legendary. Sometimes he’d step out of a sequined limousine that rolled onto stage (driven by his very young and handsome lover, Scott Thorson), sometimes he flew in by invisible wires. After making a grand runway walk, he’d hold out his arms to show off his outfit and yet, “I hope you like it! You paid for it!” The audience roared back their approval.

He was as out as any closeted gay man could possible be, and as closeted as every fearful performer was determined to be. But the difference between Liberace and everyone else is that, his verbal denials aside — he even sued London’s Daily Mirror in 1956 when they questioned his sexuality in print and, incredibly, won! — he didn’t otherwise put a lot of effort into trying to fool his audience while on stage. Art critic Dave Hickey, in his essay “A Rhinestone as Big As The Ritz,” I think, put it best:

He never came out of the closet; he lived in it like the grand hypocrite that he was, and died in it, of a disease he refused to acknowledge. But neither, in fact, did Wilde come out of it, and he, along with Swineburn and their Belle Époque cronies, probably invented the closet as a mode of subversive public/private existence. Nor did Noel Coward come out of it. He tricked it up with the smoke and mirrors of leisure-class ennui and cloaked it in public-school double entendre. What Liberace did do, however, was Americanize the closet, democratize it, fit it out with transparent walls, and take it up on stage and demand our complicity in his “open secret.” …”A bit like cousin Ed, ain’t he,” my grandfather said. Getting it but not saying it.

Scott Thorson and Liberace

In 1982, Thorson, by then Liberace’s 24-year-old lover of five years, sued Liberace for $113 million in palimony after they broke up. The lawsuit made for sensation headlines, but Thorson wound up settling for a pittance. Liberace’s closet remained sealed right up until he died in 1987. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure brought on by sub-acute encephalopathy. Before he died, Hank Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, wrote in a front-page story that he had known Liberace for 40 years and that he, Greenspun, had the medical records, laboratory reports and other documentation to prove that Liberace had AIDS. Liberace and his handlers continued to deny the reports. After Liberace’s death, Thorson published a tell-all book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, in which Thorson described the “tender love” he shared with Liberace and their reconciliation at Liberace’s death bed. But despite that, and even despite Betty White’s 2011 revelation that she was a beard for some of Liberace’s dates for publicity’s sake, Wikipedia had an entire section devoted to “allegations of homosexuality” until 2013. That question was apparently settled in the public’s mind, once and for all, when HBO’s biopic, Behind the Candelabra, based on Thorson’s book and starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson, premiered in May.

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?

Eric Payne

May 16th, 2014

Homosexual Coed Tries to End Life

Someone needs to find the woman who is the subject of this item.

It’s not out of the realm she’s alive, though if she were 25 in 1950, she’d be 79 years old now.

Knowing the dat of the UPI story — May 16, 1950 — a FIA filing could be made with Seattle police, requesting all details from the previous month (April 16 – May 16) of calls made that involved women, guns and suicide threats with a response of more than 2 units. That would give the person investigating a name.

With that name, the case can be followed until sentencing/adjudication is administered. Since the UPI indicates the adjudication is that of being confined to a mental hospital (possibly by choice), what was the cause of the hospitalization? Threat of suicide? Depression? Homosexuality? If the last, what “treatment” did she undergo? For how long?

Ultimately… was she really homosexually oriented? I’d imagine, if — as the UPI feed indicates — she could not find employment because of her “feelings,” her outward appearance reflected some Uber– stereotype of the day. After her hospitalization, did she forego the flannel shirts and denim for party frocks and gingham? Did she marry a man and become a Mom? Did she assimilate?

What happened to this woman is a part of our history; she was subjected — either by self or society — to the every indignity society’s machinations once heaped upon the non-heterosexual normative individual.

We need to know who she was; she has a story to tell.

Ben in Oakland

May 16th, 2014

89, Eric. Other wise, yes.

Eric Payne

May 16th, 2014

Oops. And I used to be so good at math.


May 16th, 2014

I still say it’s ignorant to refer to men like Wilde or Coward as living in closets when such an idea had not been even conceived.

Eric Payne

May 16th, 2014

@Stephen —

While the tern “closet” may not have been the popular term for a gay person passing as straight until 1981 (the publication date of The Celluloid Closet, the concept, whatever its name! has been inherent in gay life… probably since the first self-aware homosexual hit puberty.

Popular nouns change — for instance, do you know anyone who refers to a candy treat as a “confectionary”? How about the word “tweens”? Should usage of that term be limited to referring to children of that age grouping who only reached that age grouping post 1995 or thereabouts?

In his private life, with people “in the know” concerning his orientation, don’t you think Liberace, himself, used the term “closet”? I know Rock Hudson did, and he’s of Liberace’s era.

You want to write an article on Wilde or Thorton and continuously use the cumbersome “secretive homosexual life”? Go ahead.

When/if an editor goes at the piece, it’ll be quickly blue-pencilled to “closet.”


May 16th, 2014

Not sure what makes you think “the closet” wasn’t a term used until 1981. When I came out in college in 1979, it was in use by all gay people and obviously had been for long time. The term occurs in The Boys in the Band, 1968, and this slang dictionary has a printed reference as far back as 1957. Probably it goes back a lot further than that.


May 16th, 2014

Aaak. The Front Runner. . .UA Tucson, 1978. What a fabulous dive, and yep the shorts were that short.


May 18th, 2014

Eric, Nôel Coward was not in any way shape or form secretive about his life. I’m not referring to the use of a particular word but the implied condemnation by Hickey, whoever he is, that he and others of his generation were somehow duplicitous. Coward was perfectly open about his life but in his day one’s private life was kept private. That was how it was done. All of his many friends were aware that he was ‘so’ as it used to be called, they just never talked about it. He wrote a play on this very topic, for God’s sake, in which he’s very harsh about the way Willy Maugham lied about himself to himself and the world. By condemning earlier men like Coward, Casement, &etc, we demean their lives and our own. As we find the world (by which I guess I mean parts of the US, Canada, Europe, and South America) a more welcoming place I think it’s time we started to examine how we regard men and women who lived in times that were less welcoming. By all means let’s point out that Aaaron Schock is living a lie but the same does not hold true for Swinburne. Or Cary Grant, for that matter. I’ve also seen it recorded here that Dirk Bogarde was in some kind of ‘closet’. To this day he is the only gay movie star who played a gay man when he was at the top of his career. The only one. In a movie that did much to shape public opinion and to move the British government into finally accepting the findings of the Wolfenden report. That is not being in a closet.

You do understand that I’m not condemning anyone to hell nor does this keep me awake at night, I only object to twits like Dave Hickey presuming to make himself the superior of a man like Coward. There was a sophisticated and vibrant community in the London of his day. There was also entrapment, blackmail, and scandal. And I think it’s important that we try to understand those men and women in their own terms and not in our own

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