The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, July 22
July 22nd, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
In 1974, there was a rather impressive cluster of gay and lesbian bars along the western edge of New Orleans’ French Quarter, a number of which are still in business today. Most of them were concentrated just a couple of blocks on Bourbon Street and North Rampart, between St. Peter and St. Phillips, although a few could be found here and there elsewhere in the Quarter. Travis’s on North Ramparts is no more, but the building is still a gay bar. The sign on front said Michael’s On the Park when the Google camera car last passed by in 2013, but the bar is now called Grand Pre’s.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► New Orleans Launches Raids Against Gay Bars: 1958. The Big Easy has long enjoyed a mind-your-own business reputation where personal and public morality is concerned. But that “Laissez les bons temps rouler” mindset didn’t extend to the city’s gay citizenry, and much like other major cities across the nation, anti-gay campaigns often heated up ahead of local elections. Mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison had earned a national reputation as a dynamic reformer, even as he blocked efforts to reform the city’s notoriously corrupt police department. But in 1958, city councilmen complained that the police were sitting on their hands while the French Quarter was being invaded by roving bands of homosexuals, alledgedly from other cities since, apparently, such a thing was unheard of there, the city’s storied tolerance for sexual eccentrics in music, literature and the arts notwithstanding. One councilman complained of “men with blondined hair and awful looking people all day and all night in the French Quarter,” and wondered why police had only made 86 arrests in two years on charges of lewd behavior or wearing women’s clothing. Police Supt. Provosty A. Dayries responded, “You can’t just point to someone and say he or she is a deviate — that is one of the frustrating things about the problem.”
Amid complaints about lax police enforcement and courts that insisted that those arrested should be charged with something specific and based on real evidence, Mayor Morrison appointed his half-brother, Jacob Morrison to head a citizen’s committee to look into the problem. With pressure increasing across all sectors of city govermnent, Supt. Dayries launched a raid against known “deviate bars,” arresting eighteen people (mostly bar employees) on charges of vagrancy, disturbing the peace, and “no visible means of support.” Thirty others were warned to stay away. While most of the charges were dropped the next day, the names and addresses of those arrested were printed in the newspapers. That raid was tiny, compared to another “sweeping drive” which resulted in 325 arrested in a single night. One city resident, in a letter to the editor to a local paper, noted the irony of the New Orleans political establishment enforcing morals in the city: “I consider it a piece of unmitigated gall for anyone, be he District Attorney or City Councilman, to tell me what I may see or with whom I may associate without endangering my morals. I must confess that were I to seek guidance in matters of morals, I should not likely turn to politicians.”
[Source: “Dal McIntire” (either Jim Kepner or Don Slater). “Tangents: News and Views.” ONE 6, no. 8 (September 1958): 17-20.]
► 125 YEARS AGO: James Whale: 1889-1957. While serving in the British Army during the First World War, he was taken prisoner by the Germans in Flanders in 1917, where he became involved as an actor, writer and producer of amateur camp productions to help take his fellow prisoners’ minds off their conditions. It’s where he developed his love for the theatre and his hatred for Germany. On returning to England after the war, he got involved in theater, launching the West End debut of Journey’s End. It was a smashing success, which brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Whale signed with Paramount in 1929 and brought Journey’s End (1930) to the silver screen, to rave reviews in Britain and the U.S. That same year, he met producer David Lewis, who would become Whale’s partner for the next twenty-three years.
Whale moved to Universal Studios in 1931, where he produced Waterloo Bridge, another commercial and critical success. Universal head Carl Laemmle offered Whale his choice of any project the studio owned. Whale chose Frankenstein, casting the then-unknown Boris Karloff in the title role. It was, as they say, money in the bank, shattering box office records and earning Universal the unheard of sum of $12 million in its first release. Other highly-regarded films followed: The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Show Boat (1936).
In 1937, he produced The Road Back (1937), the sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. Harkening back to his experience with Journey’s End, it was to be the film to cement Whale’s reputation for all time. But when filming started, Laemmle had lost control of Universal, and the new studio heads rescinded Whale’s total control over the film. The L.A. consul for Nazi Germany objected to the film’s anti-German themes. Whale refused to back down, and his original cut of the film received positive reviews. But sometime between the previews and the film’s final release, Universal bucked to Nazi criticisms, and ordered additional cuts and added comical-relief scenes to soften the film’s edge. That move proved disastrous. The movie flopped, was banned in Germany anyway, and infuriated Whale. From then on Whale was was consigned to making B movies for the remainder of his contract. Only one of those films proved successful; 1939’s Man in the Iron Mask.
When his contract ended, Whale left the film business, aside from a few odd jobs here and there, and generally entered a life of comfortable retirement, hosting pool parties for the benefit of Hollywood’s discrete gay set. In 1952, while traveling in Europe, Whale ent to a gay bar in Paris and was smitten by a 25-year-old bartender, Pierre Foegel. When Whale brought Foegel to California, David Lewis moved out and Foegel moved in (although Lewis and Whale would remain lifelong friends). Whale suffered a small stroke in 1956, followed by a larger one a few months later. Those strokes left him physically impaired and emotionally depressed. He committed suicide in 1957 by throwing himself into his swimming pool. He left a suicide note, but Lewis intervened to hide it and Whale’s death was ruled an accident, leaving the exact nature of his death shrouded in mystery. Lewis released the note twenty years later, shorty before his own death in 1987.
► Emily Saliers: 1963. A singer-songwriter and one half of Indigo Girls, she plays the guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele and the Greek bouzouki. She met her Indigo Girls partner, Amy Ray, when they were in elementary school together in Decatur, Georgia. Both Girls are lesbian, although Saliers jokes that she prefers “gay” because “lesbian has three syllables.” In 2004, Saliers co-wrote a book with her father, retired theology professor Don Saliers, titled A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice, and the two of them conducted a combined book tour and church appearances around the country, including a stop at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The Indigo Girls released their latest album, Beauty Queen Sister, in 2011, and they are currently touring as a duo, with several dates accompanied by a full band and symphony orchestras in select cities.
► Rufus Wainwright: 1973. His mother was the late Kate McGarrigle, and his father is Loudon Wainwright III. With genes like that, it’s no wonder Rufus won a 1989 Genie Award for Best Original Song when he was only sixteen years old. Rolling Stone named his eponymous debut album as one of the best albums of the year and named him the Best New Artist of 1998. Politically, he came late to the marriage equality bandwagon. “I wasn’t a huge gay marriage supporter before I met Jörn (Weisbrodt) because I love the whole old-school promiscuous Oscar Wilde freak show of what ‘being gay’ once was. But since meeting Jörn that all changed.” He and Weisbrodt became parents in 2011, and they married in Montauk, New York in 2012. His seventh studio album, Out of the Game, was released that same year.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?