The Daily Agenda for Friday, December 11

Jim Burroway

December 11th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Wilde Side, a weekly New England gay bar guide, September 1, 1976, page 23.

From Wilde Side, a weekly New England gay bar guide, September 1, 1976, page 23.

When did you move from going to the park into going to bars and those kinds of things?

Well, I never had any gay friends, never. Until the bar opened in Lewiston about ten years ago. It was called the Blue Swan at the time. I was scared to go in so I brought a couple tough guys from work with me. Everyone at work knew I was gay. … Anyway, I brought some real tough guys from work with me. I was scared. You heard stories about those kind of people who tie you up and tear your clothes up. I didn’t know what went on in that bar. That’s why I got a couple friends to go with me.

I went in and I met people who said hello and all of this and I looked around and sat down ad had a beer with my friends and it wasn’t that bad. There was nothing going on. You didn’t see guys making out or tearing clothes off each other. So then I started going alone. I brought another friend of mine who I found out was bi; we started going pretty regular after that.

— From “An Interview with Bob Gravel” by John Preston, in Winter’s Light: Reflections of a Yankee Queer.

Gay Rights Advocate Interrupts CBS Evening News Broadcast: 1973. Among the issues that gay rights advocates faced in the early 1970s was the way gay people continued to be portrayed in the press and on television — if they bothered to cover gay issues at all. The New York Times, which was supposedly the newspaper of record for the city, had never even bothered to mention the Stonewall uprising four years earlier until several months later. To call attention to the problem, Mark Segal of the Philadelphia-based Gay Raiders posed as a reporter for the Camden State Community College newspaper and called CBS asking permission to watch the broadcast of the CBS Evening News with the legendary Walter Cronkite from inside the studio. The network agreed and granted Segal access to the studio. And so on December 11, 1973, he briefly interrupted the broadcast about halfway through by running up in front of the camera with a yellow sign reading “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice”:

“I sat on Cronkite’s desk directly in front of him and held up the sign while the technicians furiously ran after me and wrestled me to the floor and wrapped me in wire — on camera,” (Segal) recalled in an interview. “The network went black while they took us out of the studio.”

Ever the professional, Cronkite reported on the event. “Well, a rather interesting development in the studio here — a protest demonstration right in the middle of the CBS News studio,” Cronkite told viewers. He later explained: “The young man was identified as a member of something called Gay Raiders, an organization protesting alleged defamation of homosexuals on entertainment programs.” Segal was charged with trespassing.

The “zap” payed off. After Segal’s trial for trespassing in which his attorneys subpoenaed Cronkite the testify, the news anchor began to take an interest in Segal’s grievance. He arranged a meeting at CBS where Segal could air his complaints to management, and Cronkite’s broadcast on May 6, 1974 featured a segment on gay rights, reporting on the ten cities throughout the country that had passed legal protections for gay people.

Segal went on to become publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, and remembered his friendship with Walter Cronkite days after his passing in 2009:

“He was the kind of man who believed in human rights for everyone,” Segal said of Cronkite. “I am amazed and humbled by his willingness to reach out to me. He was a bridge between the gay movement and major media. We remained friends, and it was a privilege knowing him.”

Segal published his memoir, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality, this past October.

American Psychiatric Association Rejects Ex-Gay Therapy: 1998. The American Psychiatric Association’s board unanimously rejected therapy aimed solely at changing gay people straight, saying it can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. Dr, Nada Stotland, head of the APA’s joint committee on public affairs, said, “The very existence of therapy that is supposed to change people’s sexuality, even for people who don’t take it, is harmful because it implies that they have a disease. There is evidence that the belief itself can trigger depression and anxiety.”

The APA’s move was, in part, a response to a massive nationwide push by Focus On the Family and Exodus International to publicize the ex-gay movement, complete with a Newsweek cover the prior August featuring ex-gay spokesman John Paulk and his ex-lesbian wife Anne. Paulk who was the so-called gender specialist at Focus On the Family and organizer of the Love Won Out ex-gay roadshows, denounced the APA’s move. “This makes it more difficult for clients who want to be treated for unwanted homosexuality,” Paulk complained. “Furthermore, no scientific study has given conclusive evidence that homosexuality cannot be successfully treated.” Less than two years later, Paulk himself would be found in a Washington, D.C. gay bar (see Sep 19). In 2013, Paulk renounced his prior association with the ex-gay movement and issued a formal apology to the “countless people (who) were harmed by things I said and did in the past.” Exodus International announced its closure in June, 2013.

The 1998 APA statement, along with a 2000 follow-on statement, can be found here.

Jean Marais: 1913-1998. The French actor first met the writer, poet and film director Jean Cocteau (see Jul 5) when Marais was auditioning for a small role in a revival of Cocteau’s play, Oedipe-roi (Oedipus Rex). Marais was 24, half of Cocteau’s age, but the two fell in love and were together as partners, both personally and professionally, for the next twelve years. Midway through their relationship, Cocteau wrote the screenplay for L’Éternel retour (The Eternal Return) specifically for Marais. The 1943 film was critical and commercial success for Cocteau, and an important milestone in Marais’s career.

Marais continued acting while Germany occupied France, but once Paris was liberated he joined France’s Second Armored Division, driving fuel trucks to the front line and earning the Croix de Guerre for his service. After the war, Marais returned to Cocteau and acting, appearing in Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast), which introduced both Marais and Cocteau to American audiences, and garnering Marais a legion of fans among teen girls and gay men. Marais made four more films with Cocteau, and with other important French directors. By 1949, the personal half of his partnership with Cocteau cooled, but the two remained lifelong friends and collaborators until Cocteau’s death in 1963. Through the 1950s, Marais became the French Eroll Flynn, through his roles in a series of swashbuckling films in which he performed his own stunts.

When Marais’ film career wound down in the 1970s, he took to the stage, took up painting and sculpture, and wrote several volumes of memoirs, including one of Cocteau titled, L’Inconcevable Jean Cocteau under the authorship of “Cocteau-Marais.” In 1998, Marais was awarded the Legion of Honor for his work in French film, and died two years later, on November 8, 1998, survived by his adopted son, Serge.

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton: 1928-1984. Like so many blues singers, the Montgomery, Alabama, native’s musical heritage was in the church: her father was a preacher, her mother sang in the choir, and her brother, later known as “Harp” Thornton, played drums and harmonica. Her mother died when Willie Mae was fourteen. She took a job cleaning a saloon and was soon singing. In 1941, she joined Atlanta music promoter Sammy Green’s “The Hot Harlem Revue” where she was billed as the “New Bessie Smith.” In 1948, she left the Revue, moved to Houston and played in several clubs there. Her ability to sing and play multiple instruments led, in 1951, to a five-year contract with Peacock Records, which was known for its wide selection of popular “race” artists like Johnny Ace and a young and up-and-coming Little Richard. She began touring the “chitlin’ circuit” in the south, culminating in a legendary performance at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1952.

Relatively open about her lesbianism, she preferred men’s clothing over women’s, although on the stage she was usually talked into wearing a dress. Whatever she wore seemed to make little difference: her bigger than life presence always meant that she would never be a pretty little thing. Big all her life, she topped 300 pounds by the time she hit the Apollo, and her billing became “Big Mama Thornton” at about that time. In later years, she would often appear on stage in a man’s straw hat, which became something of a signature for her.

Her biggest hit was 1953’s “Hound Dog,” written for her by the before-they-were famous songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Her original recording of “Hound Dog” featured her growling voice and openly sexualized lyrics. It topped Billboard’s R&B charts, but Thornton got only $500 for her recording and no royalties. When Elvis Presley cleaned it up, covered it in 1956 and made a fortune, Thornton began adding the line, “Bow wow to you, too” at the end of her performances as a swipe against Presley’s appropriation.

Presley’s success with “Hound Dog” was part of a much larger shift in America’s musical tastes. R&B had always been a bit too raw for white audiences, but Rock and Roll was able to fill in the gap between the races. As R&B declined in popularity, so did Thornton’s career. But a second life came along in the 1960s as artists like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Janis Joplin actively promoted a revival in interest in traditional blues and R&B. She toured Europe in 1965 which resulted in the albums, Big Mama Thornton: In Europe, with backing by legendary artists like Buddy Guy, Walter Horton, and Fred Below. Her 1967 album Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band also featured a stellar lineup of Muddy Waters, Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins and Otis Spawn.” The title song from 1968’s Ball and Chain became a signature song for Janis Joplin.

Thornton continued performing and recording into the 1970s, but by now her heavy drinking was taking its toll. Her 1979 performance at the San Francisco Blues Festival earned rave reviews, despite her requiring assistance to get on the stage. After a serious auto accident, she appeared at the 1983 Newport Jazz Festival, with Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. That legendary performance was memorialized in the live recording The Blues—A Real Summit Meeting. It would also be her last appearance on stage. She died of a heart attack in 1984, at the age of 57. That same year, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.

[Sources: Tina Spencer Dreisbach. “Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. (June 13, 2008, updated April 5, 2011). Available online here.

Ruth M. Pettis. “Thornton, Willie Mae “Big Mama” (1926-1984).” (October 8, 2007). Available online here.]

John Preston: 1945-1994. Today’s Fifty Shades of Gray fans owe Preston a particularly long-overdue acknowledgement. The award-winning writer, essayist, and journalist is probably best known for his Leather S&M gay erotica, a genre that Preston was proud of and which he felt made him a better, more honest writer. As he explained in his 1993, Harvard lecture, which he titled “My Life as a Pornographer” (and which he later published in an essay compilation by the same name) “Pornography has made me be honest, about myself and some of the most intimate details of my life and my fantasies. … Once I had exposed my own sexual fantasies, my most intimate desires, I feared little else about self-exposure as a writer.”

Leather S&M porn activism may seem like an odd field of endeaver, but activism came naturally to the Medfield, Massachusetts native, who by age fourteen had already volunteered as a Freedom Rider in Alabama and a tutor in Chicago’s projects. He graduated from Lake Forest College in Illinois, was certified as a sexual-health consultant by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Medical School, and he also studied theology at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and Northwestern Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul. After moving to Minneapolis in 1969, he founded Gay House, one of the first gay and lesbian community centers in the country. He served as its first director until 1972, when he founded Gay Community Services.

MasterBy the mid 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles and became the editor of The Advocate. Then at about 1978, he moved to New York and took up fiction writing with a short pornographic story about a young man, Jaime, who becomes the sexual property of a Master named Aristotle Benson. He sent the story to Drummer magazine, which asked him to write an entire series on the exploits of Jaime and Benson. Those monthly episodes exploring Manhattan’s Leather and S&M scene were immensely popular. T-shirts reading “Looking for Mr. Benson” — some with a question mark, some without — began appearing in gay bars across the country. Mr. Benson: A Novel was eventually published in book form, where it set a new standard in pornographic fiction. Other titles followed, including his “Master” series: I Once Had a Master (1984, which became the subject of a Canadian customs court case), Entertainment for a Master (1986), Love Of A Master (1987), and In Search Of A Master (1989).

But S&M porn was far from his only literary interest. Working as a journalist and essayist, he wrote for a number of gay magazines and penned a column about gay life in Maine after abandoning Manhattan for a refurbished warehouse in Portland. He wrote straight men’s adventure novels which, in a bizarro-world twist, his publisher insisted on publishing under a pseudonym lest his straight readers find out who wrote them. He then took what he learned from writing those books to write similar action adventure novels featuring gay characters, with story lines that addressed the difficulty gay teens experienced. When AIDS came along, Preston quickly adapted and became among the first to popularize safe sex stories by editing a safe sex anthology, Hot Living: Erotic Stories about Safer Sex, in 1985. He co-wrote, with Glenn Swann, a badly-needed safe-sex guide, Safe Sex: The Ultimate Erotic Guide, and two other rather unorthodox advice books: 1984’s Classified Affairs: A Gay Man’s Guide to the Personal Ads and 1994’s Hustling: A Gentleman’s Guide to the Fine Art of Homosexual Prostitution.

Preston edited several critically acclaimed anthologies, including Hometowns: Gay Men Write About Where They Belong (1992), Personal dispatches: Writers confront AIDS (1990, which he began compiling soon after his own AIDS diagnosis), and Flesh and the Word: An Anthology of Erotic Writing(1995, with two stories by his friend, Anne Rice). Two of his anthologies, Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families (1992) and Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together (1994) were honored with Lambda Literary Awards. He died of AIDS in 1994, at the age of 48. His papers are housed at the John Hay Library at Brown University.

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).

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