Daily Archives: August 6, 2005

No serious journalist can afford to be without a copy of Edward Alwood’s Straight News ,especially in light of recent events in the ever-intertwined worlds of politics and show business. But before getting to those events, turn to page 44 of Alwood and step into the Wayback Machine with him:

On December 17, 1963, the New York Times carried an especially uncharacteristic article on its front pages about a recent rash of routine police raids on gay bars. Typically, the Times avoided stories that might appear sensational, but the raids provided an opportunity for the paper to disclose to its readers that homosexual had become a serious problem facing the city. Under the headline “Growth if Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,” the Times story began,

The problem of homosexuality in New York became the focus yesterday of increased attention by the State Liquor Authority and the the Police Department. The liquor authority announced the revocation of the liquor licenses of two more homosexual haunts that had been repeatedly raided by the police. . .The city’s most sensitive open secret — the presence of what is probably the greatest homosexual population in the world and its increasing openness — has become the subject of growing concern of psychiatrists, religious leaders and the police.

Before going any further, it’s important to remember exactly where we are in gay history. 1963 witnessed the premiere, and subsequent arrest of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures. Andy Warhol began making films, the most famous being Sleep starring his then-boyfriend John Giorno. Frank O’Hara wrote brilliant poems of gay life and love — often making mention of the sort of establishments the police were so intent on closing. Gay life was highly circumscribed and clandestine, yet loose and lively for those in the know

“Have you heard that Mimsie Starr
Just got pinched in the As-tor bar.
Well did you evah!
What a swell party this is!”

wrote Cole Porter in a song introduced by Charles Walters and Betty Grable in DuBarry Was a Lady and reprised by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in Walters’ film High Society. The ever-naughty Cole was winking to chums well aware of the fact that the bar of New York’s Astor Hotel had a gay section where well-heeled gentlemen could find others interested in what Cole (in a ditty for Silk Stockings ) called “the urge the merge with a splurge.” Watch your p’s and q’s and you could do likewise. But those that did not, venturing into far more louche climes, might well find themselves between the rock and the hard place of the Mafia and the NYPD. These twin organizations had quite a little system going. The former operated gay bars, both utterly clandestine and semi-open, paying off the latter. When payments didn’t come through on time, a raid was staged. In search of a good screw, the customers got screwed either way: overpriced watered drinks and/or arrest on a “morals” charge. This all came to an end on 1969 with the fabled “Stonewall” riots. But we’re still in 1963 with Alwood explaining how the Times story came to be.

The story appeared on page one because A.M. Rosenthal, the Times’s new metropolitan editor, wanted to make a point. After eight years abroad he had abandoned an exemplary career as a foreign correspondent to reinvigorate the paper’s city section, which had been plagues by reporting problems since the early 1950s.

Not long after Rosenthal arrived in the city, he and his wife were apartment hunting in the East Fifties and wandered into a notorious cruising area for gay men that ran for several blocks along Third Avenue. The Couple were startled to see male couples holding hands. Several building directories listed pairs of men who were sharing apartments. Although New York’s gay subculture dated to atleast the turn of the century, Rosenthal had not spent much time in the city in the 1950’s, a period in which large numbers of gays had settled there rather tha return to the confines of their small hometowns after World War II.

And thus a “Country Bumpkin” set the homophobic tone that the Times would hold to for decades to come. Not that it wasn’t entirely unknown before, especially in regard to Gore Vidal, whose 1948 literary breakthough The City and the Pillar, so scandalized the Times that his subsequent works were for years passed over by the Grey Lady in silence. The Rosenthal regime heralded an era in which gayness was put in its place as “the growing concern of psychiatrists, religious leaders and the police.” Outside of their purview it was ordered to maintain the silence of the closet. Yet fear that it would find a way to “speak” regardless was voiced by Times drama critic Stanley Kaufmann in a famous article published on January 23, 1966 entitled “Homosexual Drama and Its Disgusies” in which he wrote that “three of the most successful American playwrights of the last twety years are (reputed) to be homosexual.”

Doncha just love the “(reputed)” ? He was of course talking about Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and William Inge. He went on —

I do not argue for increased homosexual influence in our theater. It is precisely because I, like many others, am weary of disguised homosexual influence that I raise the matter. We have all had much more than enough of the material so often presented by the three writers in question: the visciousness toward women, the lurid violence that seems a sublimation of social hatreds, the transvestite sexual exhibitionism that has the same sneering exploitation of its audience that every club stripper has behind her smile.

In other words A Streetcar Named Desire, Picnic and most especially (beng the most recent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were “sneering” transvestite romps. Why? Well because their homosexual authors were supposedly required to “disguise” what they “really” wanted to say. And perhaps that’s a good thing because they were just so hateful and destructive anyway.

Or something.

So maybe they should be “allowed” to write about the “world” that they knew.
But maybe not because it’s all just so disgusting.

Oh — whatever !

In his essay “Tennesse Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With” (which can be found in the 1988 anthology At Home ) Gore Vidal explains precisely how this pseudo-intellectual Three Card Monte game is played in a world divided into “Good Team” (heterosexual) and a “Bad” one (homosexual):

Both The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire opened during that brief golden age (1945-1950) when the United States was everywhere not only regnant but at peace, something we have not been for the last thirty-five years.

At the beginning, Williams was acclaimed by pretty much everyone; only Time magazine was consistently hostile, suspecting that Williams might be “basically negative” and “sterile.” code words of the day for fag. More to the point, Time’s founder, Henry Luce, had been born in China, son of a Christian missionary. “The greatest task of the United States in the twentieth century,” he once told me, “will be the Christianization of China.” With so mad a proprietor, it is no wonder that Time-Life should have led the press crusade against fags in general and Williams in particular.

Luce’s failure on both scores is darkly amusing. China remains. . .China, and Tennessee Williams is today more popular and respected than ever. Vidal goes on —

Although Williams was able to survive as a playwrite because he as supported by the drama reviewers of The New York Times

Pre-Kauffman, needless to say.

and Herald Tribune, the only two newspapers that mattered for a play’s success, he was to take a lot of flak over the years. After so much good-team popaganda, it is now widely believed thatsicne Tennessee Williams liked to have sex with men (true), he hated women (untrue); as a result his women characters are thought to be malicious caricatures, designed to subvert and destroy godly straightness.

But there is no actress on earth who will not testify that Williams created the best women characters in modern theater. After all, he never ceased to love [his sister] Rose and Rose, and his women characters tended to be either one or the other. Faced with contrary evidence, the anti-fag brigade promptly switched to their fallback position. All right, so he didn’t hate women (as real guys do — the ball-breakers!) but, worse, far worse, he thought he was a woman.

Needless to say, a biblical hatred of women intertwines with the good team’s hatred of fags. But Williams never thought of himself as anything but a man who could, as an artist, inhabit any gender; on the other hand, his sympathies were always with those defeated by “the squares”; or by time once the sweet bird of youth is flown. Or by death, “which has never been much in the of completion.”

One would have thought this was all ancient history by now — especially at the New York Times. Abe (“I’m writing as bad as I can,” as Spy magazine used to say ) Rosenthal is gone. So is Stanley Kaufmann. So is poor Jeff Schmalz, a Rosenthal favorite whose closet door burst open when he collapsed on the copy room floor with a grand mal seizure resulting from the fact that he had AIDS. Gone too is 90’s era America’s favorite trained-faggot-on-a-leash The Creature From the Blog Lagoon. Still the Times does have Suzanne Somers’ nemesis, Charles Isherwood, and several other same-sex-inclined scribes at the Drama Desk. However they also have one Ed Martel, who in today’s edition penned An End to Notches on a Headboard :

“Queer as Folk,” which has its finale on Showtime tomorrow night, was just a more honest “Sex and the City.” Carrie Bradshaw and company enjoyed a turnover of partners that seemed more appropriate to gay culture, and those women discussed the tawdry details of their escapades in gay-worthy repartee. The writers even winked to the connection by naming Carrie’s most eligible prospect after a gay-pornography legend.
So it stood to reason that television audiences were ready for an all-male version. And when Showtime came out with the gay ensemble drama “Queer as Folk” five years ago, the initial shock was really not because of all the restroom-stall sex. Instead it was a revelation that real gay men could speak their minds on television instead of having their thoughts channeled through babes in asymmetrical skirts or, to go back a decade, through the silver foxes of “The Golden Girls.”

So here we are decades later with the old canard Kaufman used to thwack
Tennessee Williams being used to bean Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman

Plus ca change plus c’est la meme turd.

Overnight, Brian Kinney (played by Gale Harold), the überstud of “Queer as Folk,” became an accumulator of headboard notches that would put Samantha Jones to shame and that made her double-entendres seem like an also-ran’s at a drag contest. A gay coterie in Pittsburgh followed Brian’s lead: Emmett, the shop girl who dreams of stardom; Ted, the repressed accountant who loves Callas; Michael, the comic-book enthusiast and doormat; Justin, the boy wonder who just might be an Important Artist.

In short order the woes of this clique found a predictable rhythm. The shows introduced new loves (a gazillionaire sugar daddy, a classical music virtuoso, a closeted football star), each of whom upset the balance among this ersatz family of friends. Each satellite romance met some resolution, always with a rainbow-bannered lesson.

Oh yeah, right. You can hardly tell Gale Harold and Kim Cattrell apart. And anyone who loves Callas is of course beneath contempt, moving as they do to a “predictable rhythm” offering “rainbow-bannered lesson” that no serious heterosexual should pay any mind to.

The show was always tackling this subtheme or that. Of course, there was an incident of gay bashing, a romance wrecked by crystal-meth abuse, a probate dispute when a dead man’s family attacked the surviving partner, an Internet-pornography addiction that led to a business prospect, and most tediously, the sharing of biological children with a lesbian couple. Imagine the possible complications, and they all basically showed up in the scripts, never with as much depth or surprise as befits the newness of this subject matter. The adolescent dialogue was too often rushing toward a dramatic climax, sounding unbelievably oratorical, and then sashaying on to another crise de coeur.

Kind of like RuPaul imagining himself to be Arthur Miller — no? Yes all these “sub-themes” are of no serious concern to anyone heterosexual — and therefoe beneath contempt.

Like its all-female precursor, “Queer as Folk” delighted in its own wordplay, losing its audience with groaners. (A straight mom tells her embittered son, “By the look of your face, I should have ordered a sour-apple martini.”) To their credit, the “Queer” guys were much less afraid of the dark side than the “Sex” gals had been.

Well maybe that’s because men’s lives and women’s lives are rather different, as Sex and the City creators Jon Patrick King and Darren Star well know. But they’re just a couple of fags, right? The resolutely heterosexual NYT knows better. For the characters created by such screenwriters aren’t “men” or “women” — they’re just a bunch of silly “sashaying” queens.

The more the gay world has made its demands known about assimilation, the more its quirks and freedoms and faults have come into fuller view (on shows like “Queer as Folk,” when you think about it). Brian says he doesn’t want the juicers and Ginsu knives that come with marriage. He accuses his gay friends who do of defection.

In other words he’s guilty of the unpardonable sin of never wanting to appear on the NYT’s “Weddings and Celebrations” page.

All this leads to an incendiary ending, one that toys with a main character’s life, as I guess all series finales must these days. The last episode begins with typical opening credits – a silly, swishy Gap ad of gay life – and ends with nut cases and histrionics and “I should have told you this before” hugs. In this sad denouement, the show proves it has moved past its initial usefulness, except that it helped “The L Word” get a time slot. In fact many in the gay audience now watch “Queer as Folk” as a civic duty and also to howl in mortification at the countless stereotypes.

“Stereotypes” has, needless to say, become the new code for “gay men we don’t like.” And Martel, who clearly disapproves of the countless millions who enjoyed every last nanosecond of Queer As Folk, neatly ties his disapproval of the show to his disapproval of gay men period.

Above all there’s an impulse to thank the straight actors in the “Queer as Folk” cast, although it’s never completely clear which are heterosexual, for doing things that didn’t come naturally.

Well look Ed, here’s the skinny: Randy Harrison, Peter Paige, Bobby Gant and Scott Lowell are gay. Gale Harold and Hal Sparks are straight.

Happy darling?

Meanwhile elsewhere in the Times a “good homo” is discovered in — of all people — Brett Easton Ellis

The other dedication is to Michael Wade Kaplan, who Mr. Ellis said was his best friend and lover for six years, and who died, in January 2004, at the age of 30. They did not live together, Mr. Ellis said: “It was a very loose kind of partnership. It was not particularly conventional, and neither one of us was interested in the lifestyle, I guess.”

Or rather he didn’t want to be seen as part of it.

Mr. Kaplan died barely a month after Mr. Ellis had traveled from New York to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his mother and two sisters, as he has in most years since he finished college and moved to Manhattan. He planned to spend a few months finishing the final draft of “Lunar Park” and then return to New York.

Instead, he said, Mr. Kaplan’s unexpected death left him in a tailspin. He did not attend the funeral in Michigan, he said, because he could not even bring himself to leave his room – the room in his mother’s house in Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley, where he grew up. And he stayed in Los Angeles for 19 months, shuffling from mother to sister to friend and finally a series of hotels, suffering what he calls “a midlife crisis.”

“His death was a big catalyst to finish the novel,” Mr. Ellis said, and it probably added “a new layer of wistfulness and melancholy to the writing” that had not been there before.

It certainly seems to have brought a new sense of his personal boundaries. Since the publication of “Less Than Zero,” in which the main character engages in both heterosexual and homosexual affairs, Mr. Ellis has deflected questions about his own sexual orientation. Even after a documentary called “This Is Not an Exit” referred to his homosexuality, Mr. Ellis always kept the public record decidedly vague. Until now.

Love the “until now.” Very Confidential.

At the same time I can’t help but appreciate the return (after decades of neglect) of “lover.”

Lovely word. Simple, accurate, hideously replaced by the ultra-antispetic buzzword “partner.”

Law firms have “partners.”

I haven’t been living for the past 36 years with a law firm.