Category Archives: biography

Gay History: Merv Griffin’s Bodyguard of Lies

When Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin died on Aug. 12, queer-savvy media watchers wondered whether notices of his passing would maintain his preference for passing as straight. In recent years, celebrity obituaries have continued the long tradition of burying the departed closet cases in journalistically closed coffins, taking the not-so-secret truth with them to the grave. Singer Luther Vandross, writer Susan Sontag and film director Ismail Merchant had all been accorded the privilege of “inning” by the press, however open a secret their homosexuality had been while they were alive. Nil nisi bonum appears to be the rule for editors, and noting that a deceased famous person was gay certainly seems to count as speaking evil.

In Griffin’s case, though, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, as The New York Times, The Washington Post all noted in their obituaries that Griffin had been the target in the early 1990s of unsuccessful palimony and sexual harassment suits, both brought by men who claimed that he had done them wrong, though in different ways, and both dismissed in court. Still, these lawsuits brought out into the open, if briefly, what had long been known in Hollywood: namely, that the divorced father of one, and highly visible public escort of Eva Gabor, was also gay. In the years since his legal outing, Griffin was sometimes questioned about his sexuality and always deflected the question with a joke: “You’re asking an 80-year-old man about his sexuality right now! Get a life!” In 2005 he told The New York Times with a sly grin: “I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”

The Associated Press, however, played the game the old way, limiting its obituary to Griffin’s early marriage:

Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.”

“It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt,” he wrote in [his] autobiography. “So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain.” He never remarried.

Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral was a major Hollywood event, headlined by Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-starring Larry King, Ellen Degeneres and a host of TV old-timers such as Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman and Steve Lawrence. For some, the event was reminiscent of the funeral of another famous tycoon, an occasion that played a key role in launching the controversial journalistic-political tactic that came to be known as outing.

The New York gay magazine Outweek introduced the practice of outing closeted public figures, mostly politicians and show business celebrities who were unwilling to enlist in the cause of fighting AIDS. When prominent publisher Malcolm Forbes died in February 1990, the exposure of his homosexual side was not long in coming. The March 18, 1990, cover of OutWeek showed a photo of Malcolm Forbes on his motorcycle, with the bold headline: “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” The article, by Michelangelo Signorile, begins with Forbes’ funeral, noting the presence among the mourners of many prominent homophobes — Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, Al Neuharth — and asks whether they knew “that they were coming to pay homage to someone who embodied what they ultimately detested?”

Signorile concluded his article with a defense of outing Forbes. First, he noted that, “All too often history is distorted,” and the fact that one of the most influential men in America was gay should be recorded. Second, “it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.” The third reason Signorile gave was that this story illuminated a choice made by many gay people. In researching the story Signorile tried to interview a gay man who had been close to Forbes and his family, someone who could have shed light on “the real inner workings of Forbes’ mind.”

But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community. And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”

The Outweek story set off a firestorm of controversy about outing, with most condemning the tactic. The L.A. Times, which also editorialized against outing, named only dead people: Forbes, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, Terry Dolan, Perry Ellis and Oliver Sipple; Newsweek limited itself to Forbes (reproducing the OutWeek cover photo and headline) and Liz Smith, a “favorite target” of the outers who is quoted as saying, “I may be a gossip columnist, but I do respect the right of people not to tell me ‘everything,’ and I reserve the same right for myself.” The New York Times would refer only to “a famous businessman who had recently died.” Times spokesman William Adler took a hard line, saying that the paper would not print “hearsay” even if the subject is no longer living: “The thinking at the Times is that in most cases an individual’s private sex life should not be the subject of coverage by the newspaper unless the person wishes it to be so,” Adler said. “That perspective extends through their lifetime and even after their death.”Seventeen years later, the situation is vastly different, but celebrity closets remain dangerous journalistic territory, even when their inhabitants are deceased and therefore immune from being libeled. The day before Merv Griffin’s funeral, the Hollywood Reporter, one of the industry “bibles” read by everyone in showbiz, ran a front-page story by regular writer Ray Richmond that began, “Merv Griffin was gay.” Richmond, who had worked for Griffin in the 1980s, went on to note that “Merv’s secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America.” Richmond made clear why he thought it important to set the record, um, straight about Griffin’s sexuality:

He certainly didn’t owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he’d been forced to hide behind throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn’t OK, when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one’s career.

If you’re Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Even in the capital of entertainment — in a business where homosexuality isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon — it’s still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And Merv’s brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.

While it would seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don’t can’t really be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a boon to one’s showbiz livelihood.

Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It’s disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.

Incoming editor Elizabeth Guider opined upon reflection that the column was not “malicious, mendacious or unfair-minded” and therefore [she] was comfortable not merely with its legality but its message as well. She understood that it’s sometimes the job of columnists to shake up the status quo as well as to “spark more discussion and deal with different viewpoints. That’s what free speech is about.”

Reuters, however, which had run the story when THR first posted it, took it down and did not put it back. Reuters explained: “This was a story from The Hollywood Reporter that ran as part of a Reuters news feed. We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed, as it did not meet our standards for news.” Officials of the news service did not explain, however, why the article seemed to meet their standards when they originally ran it (Yahoo News, which picked up the Reuters story, kept it up even after Reuters took it down).

So, how far have we come in the years between Malcolm Forbes’ and Merv Griffin’s funerals? Quite a way, to be sure, but at least for many power-wielders, things are much the same. Hollywood, like its East Coast counterpart in image manipulation, Washington, D.C., is endlessly engaged in the selling of constructed personae on the mainstream media’s pages and screens. If, as Churchill said, in wartime truth has a bodyguard of lies, then Hollywood’s image factory is always at war. Its defensive strategy relies heavily on a fifth column within the ranks of the press: gossip writers. The progeny of Louella Parsons and heirs of Hedda Hopper follow in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors, “two vain and ignorant [columnists who] tyrannized Hollywood” in the 1940s, as they were characterized by historian Otto Freidrich. Early in the 20th century the component parts of the image-manufacturing complex were firmly in place: On the one side studio publicists, publicity agents and public relations flacks, and on the other side an array of media writers ranging from freelance stringers to writers working for supermarket tabloids and magazines, whose contemporary counterparts work for mainstream personality gossip magazines like People and US, television programs like Entertainment Tonight, syndicated gossip columnists that reach millions of readers through their local newspapers, and the latest venue, commercial and amateur websites. But despite the occasional adversarial pretense, these groups really collude in providing the sort of gossip they believe the public wants to know. Gossip may not have the journalistic respectability of “hard” news, but it is an increasingly visible feature of the media landscape.

It may be a commonplace of journalism courses that the ultimate standard for news media is honesty — never knowingly to report something that is untrue, even if the “whole” truth may not be reportable for a variety of reasons (such as protecting one’s sources). But when it comes to celebrity gossip, “The standards are different,” said Jerry Nachman, then editor of the New York Post. “That’s why I always say gossip pages should come with little warning labels: The rules of regular journalism were not followed in reporting these stories.”In the case of homosexuality, we begin with a topic that already puts a strain on the rules of journalism. Former New York Times columnist Roger Wilkins, the first black writer appointed to the paper’s editorial board, said that during his two years as the urban affairs columnist in the late 1970s, only three of his columns were killed — and two of them were on gay topics. So, it should surprise no one that one of the most common departures from the rules of regular journalism is the collusion of gossip writers, and other, more “respectable” journalists, in maintaining the security of celebrity closets.

During the outing furor of the early 1990s, gay journalist Randy Shilts, while not supporting outing, did describe the system clearly:

Hundreds of publicity agents in Hollywood and New York make their living by planting items in entertainment columns about whom celebrities are dating. Many of these items are patently false and intended only to cover up the celebrity’s homosexuality. Many newspaper writers and editors know this and cheerfully participate in the deception because the bits help fill their columns. Editors who would never reveal that a public figure was gay have no problem with routinely saying that same person is straight.

“Celebrity publications are lied to up, down and sideways,” said a longtime editor at Ladies Home Journal and US, but this is highly disingenuous and ignores the fact that celebrity writers and publications are willing participants in a process that might be called inning. The gossip writers, many of them lesbian or gay, who speculated about when Malcolm Forbes would marry Elizabeth Taylor, or when Merv Griffin would marry Eva Gabor, knew what they were doing.

When singer Luther Vandross died in 2005, the media obituaries politely ignored the widespread speculation that he was gay. Using familiar inning code in their Vandross obit, the AP reported that, “the lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn’t what he wanted.” As blogger Pam Spaulding put it:

The real problem is that the news media, which has no problem recounting the endless het romances of stars (real or alleged), is squeamish about even asking a star whether or not they are gay — how is this journalism? In Vandross’s situation (as well as in the posthumous media de-gaying cases of Susan Sontag and Ismail Merchant), the coverage bends over backwards, straining any sense of credibility, to avoid any fact-finding about the subject in question that might reveal they were gay, even if the person was openly gay in their social circles, but not to their fan base. Why is there a need to preserve a straight fantasy in death?

In the end, of course, the issue is not whether Merv Griffin’s secret would be buried with him. In the age of Wikipedia, it’s a given that anyone interested enough to Google Merv would quickly get the gist of the story, if not the gory details, or even the less savory details, such as those recounted by Michelangelo Signorile in his 1993 book, “Queer in America,” in which an unnamed Hollywood “Mogul” is described as firing men from his company for being openly gay. The real point of the episode is the enduring power of the Hollywood closet that held even a billionaire locked in its embrace, paying homage to the presumed prejudices of the public.

Reference

Gay History: Remembering the Gay Man Who Saved 17 Million Lives

The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.

“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”

—Benedict Cumberbatch

I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.

This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.

Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.

Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.

The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.

“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.

Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.

In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.

Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.

I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.

Reference

Gay History: Nancy Kulp: Life In The Celluloid Closet (Miss Jane Hathaway In “The Beverly Hillbillies)

In the 1960s, it was almost unheard-of to find an out Queer person on television. Those that held a Queer identity were often forced into a ‘celluloid closet’ and made to keep their identities silent and hidden from public consumption. This was the case of Nancy Kulp, a closeted lesbian who is most remembered for her appearance as Miss Jane Hathaway in almost all of the 274 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, a television series airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Kulp would eventually come out, using her own terms, in a 1989 interview.

Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 28th, 1921 to Marjorie and Robert Kulp; the family would later move to Dade County, Florida. The only daughter of a lawyer and schoolteacher, Nancy was a bookish child from an early age and dreamed of becoming a journalist. Nancy would take the first step toward her goal when she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1943. During her years at FSU, Kulp worked as a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics, working on celebrity profiles.

Though she planned on continuing her education and obtaining her master’s degree, Nancy joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 to aid the US Navy during World War Two. While it was her patriotism and desire to work in an “all-female” atmosphere that led to her enlistment, Nancy determined that it was not her destiny to hold a career in the armed forces and left in 1945 after reaching the rank of junior-grade lieutenant. After leaving WAVES, Kulp took a position in Miami as a publicity director for a local radio station in 1946.

At the age of thirty, Nancy Kulp exchanged vows in an April Fool’s Day wedding celebration to Charles Dacus on April 1, 1951. While the marriage was short-lived, both parties parted on good terms and the relationship had a long-lasting impact on Nancy Kulp’s life. Nancy said that it was Charles Dacus who encouraged Kulp to leave her career as a publicist to achieve a career in acting (though she also later said that this inspiration came from director George Cukor). Following this encouragement, Nancy made her way to Hollywood where she took a position as a film publicist while she waited for her big break.

This break would come only three weeks later when she was discovered by A-list, gay, director George Cukor. Later that year, Nancy Kulp would make her big screen debut in Cukor’s 1951 film, The Model and the Marriage Broker. This role was larger than most others she would hold in movies though it was mostly silent and demeaning as she took on the role of a young woman desperately seeking matrimony from a marriage broker. This role was Kulp’s first foray into the sort of character she would often be type-cast to play- the spinster.

In 1954, Nancy would be cast in another Cukor film, the Judy Garland- led A Star is Born, though the scene in which she appeared would later be cut without the director’s knowledge or consent. Kulp would make several smaller appearances in many successful films such as Sabrina (the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Strange Bedfellows (1965), and The Parent Trap (1961), where Kulp played the butch troop leader.

While Nancy appeared in movies, most of her acting work was done for the small screen. She made several appearances, largely comedic, on various television shows. Her first recurring television role was as a bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). The writer for The Bob Cummings Show, Paul Henning, would go on to write for The Beverly Hillbillies, and created a role specifically for Kulp. Nancy would become known across the country as Miss Jane Hathaway, a smart and confident secretary that worked for a bank. Miss Jane, as most of the characters called her, was also a character that played into Kulp’s type-casted role as a spinster. Kulp received an Emmy Award nomination in 1967 for her performance on the show.

After the final episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Kulp was given a regular role on the Brian Keith Show (1973-1974) and made appearances on Sanford and Son (1972-1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), and Fantasy Island (1978-1984). Kulp also appeared on stage at summer stock and dinner theaters before eventually landing a role in Paul Osborn’s 1982 production of Mornings at Seven.

In 1984, the patriotic Nancy Kulp, who had long been interested in politics, decided to run for Congress in her district in central Pennsylvania, having settled in Port Royal. She ran as a Democrat against the Ninth District’s incumbent Republican representative, Bud Shuster. While she received an endorsement from friend and fellow showbiz personality Ed Asner, her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen recorded a radio advertisement claiming that Kulp was “too liberal for Pennsylvania.” Kulp was enraged by Ebsen, a California resident, getting involved in her campaign, stating that she “was speechless at such a betrayal, and something so needless and cruel.”

Nancy Kulp would go on to be defeated by Shuster and would spend the next year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, teaching film and drama. She would later return to California to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and take an active role in non-profits including the Humane Society of the Desert, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Desert Theater League.

In a 1989 interview with author Boze Hadleigh for the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, Kulp responded to Hadleigh’s “Big Question” (the question of her sexuality which she renamed the “Fatal Question”) Nancy remarked in her own words:

“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she told Hadleigh. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort–I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.”

Never in the course of the interview did she refer to herself as a lesbian.

Nancy Kulp would die of cancer only two years later, on February 3, 1991, at her home in Palm desert, California. While she never actively owned a lesbian label, Nancy Kulp was hailed as being a lesbian ground-breaker in the field of acting for having portrayed her identity (though a secret) in her work.

Former “Beverly Hillbilly” Says She Didn’t Play The Political “Game″

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nancy Kulp of ″The Beverly Hillbillies″ fame doesn’t blame fellow Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen for her election defeat last fall – but says he should have stayed out of the congressional race.

Ebsen, who starred with Ms. Kulp on the long-running television program in the 1960s and early 1970s, recorded a radio commercial for her opponent, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. In the spot, aired several weeks before the election, Ebsen said, ″Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.″

Ms. Kulp still bristles when she thinks about the ad. ″How dare he 3/8 It wasn’t his business,″ she said.

But she said there were other reasons for her defeat, notably her lack of political savvy, a shortage of campaign dollars and the popularity of President Reagan in Shuster’s sprawling rural Pennsylvania district.

“I didn’t play the game, I guess,″ Ms. Kulp, 63, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. She left her restored, three-story farmhouse in Port Royal, Pa., after the election and drove to California to visit friends.

While she raised $73,143 during 1984, Shuster, who was seeking his seventh House term, reported contributions of $269,597, according to campaign finance reports. Ms. Kulp reported gifts of $29,471 from political action committees, Shuster $138,817.

After years of involvement in local party politics and with the Screen Actors Guild, Ms. Kulp said seeking office was satisfying because ″you finally get to put your convictions on the line. It was one of the highlights of my life.″

But the experience left her with a helpless feeling that there was an image barrier between her and the voters that she could not surmount.

“You’re turned off by the distortions,″ she said. ″My feeling is a candidate is elected because they are perceived to be something. Ronald Reagan never talked issues; he waved the flag and the people loved it.

“I was perceived to be an ultra-liberal. If that is their perception – even if they like me – then I can’t win.″

The experience, she said, has left her ″ambivalent″ about the elective process and doubtful that she will seek public office again.

A central Pennsylvania native born in Harrisburg, Ms. Kulp began her acting career in 1952. She appeared in such films as ″Three Faces of Eve″ and ″The Parent Trap,″ and was featured on ″The Bob Cummings Show″ on television before the ″Beverly Hillbillies″ premiered in 1961.

On the ″Beverly Hillbillies,″ she played the secretary of a banker managing the account of a millionaire hillbilly, played by Ebsen. She and Ebsen used to talk politics on the set; they rarely agreed about issues, she said.

Ms. Kulp said she now is thinking about returning to the East Coast, possibly to teach. Juniata, a small liberal arts college 120 miles east of Pittsburgh, has expressed interest in her, perhaps for an ″artist-in-re sidence″ program, said college spokesman Robert Howden.

Who the F Is … Actress and Politician Nancy Kulp?

Who she was: A well-regarded character actress who eventually ran for public office and came out — rather obliquely.

What she accomplished: Nancy Kulp (1921-1991) endeared herself to baby boomers with her role on a silly but successful TV sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies. From 1962 to 1971, she played the prim, efficient Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to banker Milburn Drysdale. She and Drysdale were managing the millions of the Clampett family, a backwoods clan who had relocated from Tennessee to Beverly Hills after striking oil. The comedy arose from the contrast between the beyond-unsophisticated Clampetts — who made moonshine, kept “critters,” and called their swimming pool “the cement pond” — and the upscale Southern Californians who surrounded them. Hathaway, always called “Miss Jane” by the Clampetts and their kin, was unaccountably attracted to the dim-witted Jethro Bodine, nephew of patriarch Jed Clampett. Critics had no love for the show, but viewers found it hilarious, and it had an extended life in syndication.

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Kulp studied journalism in college, then served in the WAVES during World War II. After the war she worked as a publicist for radio and TV stations in Florida, then came to Hollywood in the 1950s with an eye to continuing in publicity. Someone encouraged her to try acting — some accounts say it was her then-husband, Charles Dacus, whom she refused to discuss in later years; others say it was esteemed director George Cukor. At any rate, she quickly won a small role in a Cukor film, The Model and the Marriage Broker, starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter. It was one of the great filmmaker’s lesser efforts, but it launched her career. She played supporting parts, often uncredited, in some noteworthy movies — Shane, Sabrina, the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, also directed by Cukor — and some now-forgotten ones. She also worked in TV anthology series and in guest-starring roles. Before Hillbillies, she was a regular on The Bob Cummings Show, playing a spinsterly bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone. (Bird-watching was also one of Miss Jane’s hobbies.)

After The Beverly Hillbillies ended, she continued to guest-star on various TV series; she had a recurring role on Sanford and Son for a time, and like many aging actors she appeared on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also performed on Broadway in Morning’s at Seven in the early 1980s. But she had a passion for politics, dating back to Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in 1952, and in 1984 she returned to central Pennsylvania to run for Congress. She was an underdog as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district represented by a popular incumbent. She got support from showbiz friend Ed Asner, but her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen, who had played Jed, did a commercial in which he called her “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. It caused a rift between them that lasted for years, although they reportedly eventually made up. She lost the election to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. Later, she taught acting at a Pennsylvania college and made some stage appearances, including one as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the 1987 Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta, then retired to the California desert, where she kept busy with volunteer work. Among other things, she served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1989 she addressed her sexual orientation — to a degree — in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, published in his book Hollywood Lesbians. “As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort — I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” Miss Jane would have appreciated the imagery. She also expressed admiration for gay congressman Barney Frank, and when Hadleigh asked if she would have come out in Congress, she said, “Not voluntarily. If I were outed, then I would not deny it.” Hadleigh waited to publish the book until 1994, when all his subjects were dead. Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif.

Choice quotes: “If one is past 50 or 60, it’s almost like saying that most of your life you’ve been too embarrassed to admit it or to speak up.” — to Boze Hadleigh, on the possibility of coming out

“I think I’ve been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there’s always someone who screams, ‘Where’s Jethro?’” — to People magazine, during her congressional campaign

10 times Miss Jane Hathaway let loose and ditched her pressed suit on The Beverly Hillbillies

Take a tour of Nancy Kulp’s silliest costumes.

At its heart, The Beverly Hillbillies was about breaking out of your comfort zone, and it wasn’t just the Clampetts experiencing the growing pains. Fans know that Miss Jane Hathaway, the snooty bank secretary who keeps an eye on the Clampetts, had as much to learn from the hillbillies about having fun as they did from her about fitting in with fine society.

We first meet Jane Hathaway in the bank, dilligently taking notes for Mr. Drysdale, her boss, the insanely wealthy bank manager. She’s wearing her signature pressed suit, a drab number we’d see her sport throughout most of the initial seasons. But it wouldn’t take the writers, costumers and hillbillies long to wrestle Miss Jane out of those stuffy suits and neckerchiefs just to stuff her into funnier outfits that drew extra laughs precisely because she’d been set up as such a straight character. It was one of many ways the show had fun with its audience.

Below, we’ve gone back through our favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies to offer up this tour of Miss Jane Hathaway’s most dazzling and outrageous outfits over nine seasons. Played brilliantly by Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane remains one of the show’s most memorable characters, and here’s a parade of standout moments that show us how her wardrobe helped cement her legacy.

1. Miss Jane Hathaway the Artist

It only took seven episodes before we saw Nancy Kulp slip into something sillier, this artist look that we consider her character’s first masterpiece in transformation.

2. Is that Nancy Kulp or Groucho Marx?

In the later seasons, the volume got turned up on Nancy Kulp’s costumes, and this was perhaps the height of that hilarity.

3. A hillbilly before the first season ends.

By the end of the first season, we got our first look at Nancy Kulp in hillbilly garb, and even doing a dance with the whole Clampett family! Talk about letting loose! This primed us to expect the unexpected from the typically kempt Miss Jane.

4. Remember when Miss Jane posed as Uncle Sam?

The color episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies do not disappoint when it comes to costumes, especially this red-white-and-blue suit arguably louder than any other suit she donned the whole series.

5. Miss Jane, the pageant queen.

There were many plots that involved Elly and Jane in competition for a suitor’s attention, but this beauty contest in the third season was the first time they turned that trope into a swimsuit competition!

6. Don’t think Miss Jane’s beneath a denim suit!

Need proof that Miss Jane Hathaway is a trendsetter? Check out this denim suit she donned at the very start of the ’70s. It was her idea of beach attire, and the bucket hat just perfects the look, don’t you think?

7. Fancy Nancy!

There were plenty of times, as we’ll get into soon, when Nancy Kulp showed up looking stunning on The Beverly Hillbillies, but we get flashes of Carol Burnett and Friends when we saw this particular evening attire and wacky updo!

8. Miss Jane’s very first evening look.

Let’s take a moment to just genuinely appreciate how Nancy Kulp completely owned silk, pearls and simplistic elegance. Bask in the very first time we saw her in a seriously stunning evening look from the first season.

9. That’s not to say she didn’t also know how to overdo it…

Between the wig, costume jewelry and dangly everything, Miss Jane almost looks as out of sorts in this outfit as Elly May did in an evening gown!

10. Proper, even in pajamas.

Last look is all the proof you need that Miss Jane even prefers to sleep in a suit, donning these neat blue pajamas in contrast to Granny’s gowns, but that changes soon when the writers get her character stuck in a sleeping bag that Granny’s trying to free her from here. It’s just one more example of all the physical humor that came just from shaking up Jane Hathaway’s wardrobe!

References

The Insane Exploits Of Pierre Loutrel, A Psychotic Criminal And Member Of The French Gestapo

Pierre Loutrel, also known as Pierrot le Fou, was a petty man who used his connections with the Third Reich to continue his hateful activities during WWII in France. Raised in a peasant family, Loutrel turned to trouble at a young age and escalated into one of the most notorious individuals in France’s history. He was the country’s first “Public Enemy No. 1,” and his acts are still considered some of the worst in the country’s modern history. 

He joined the Gestapo, but even the Gestapo found him to be too much to handle. Drunk, brutal, and ruthless, Loutrel robbed and slayed people without regard for anyone or anything in his path. After WWII, he didn’t skip a beat and continued on with his crooked life, a crooked life that ended up lasting well after his death.  

He Served In The French Military In Africa But Only To Get Out Of Prison

Photo: BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Pierre Loutrel was born in 1916 in Sarthe, France. As a child, he moved to Marseille, where he was jailed as a teenager. He was only released when he joined the Bat’ d’Af in Africa, a penal battalion in Algeria. He served his “tour in hell,” as it was known, and went to Paris upon release.

He Made Connections In Prison That Led To His Career With Hitler’s Regime

Photo: Sichek/WIkiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel met Henri Chamberlain, also known as Henri LaFont, in 1940 when he was in prison in the southwestern France. LaFont was a life-long unlawful person and led a prison escape during the chaos of the Third Reich’s invasion. One of the other escapees was a Swedish man named Max Stocklin who went on to introduce LaFont to members of German military intelligence.

LaFont talked his way into working with the Germans, pulling off missions they wouldn’t be able to do.  Lafont enlisted the help of Pierre Bonny, a disgraced former French police officer, in 1941. The gang spent most of its time working to acquire goods on the forbidden market for Germany, but in 1943, they shifted focus to hunting down and killing enemies of the Germans. 

The LaFont — Bonny’s gang — was also known as La Carlingue and recruited other unlawfuls into working as collaborators. One of them was Loutrel.

He Was A Member Of The French Gestapo Until The German Gestapo Dissociated From Him For Committing So Many Vile Acts

Photo: Rpm bln/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

When Loutrel joined the French Gestapo, or La Carlingue, he used the position to his advantage. From 1941 to 1945, Loutrel and his buddies spent much of their time at Parisian red light districts and getting into fights, in addition to drinking and killing for the Third Reich. The La Carlinquen headquarters was located at 93 rue Lauriston, and was where they tortured suspected enemies of Germany: pulling their nails and teeth, waterboarding them, and burning them, too.

The number of murders and summary executions Loutrel and his commrades committed raised eyebrows within the German Gestapo. Even they thought he was out of control. Loutrel was supposedly responsible for slaying 80 Resistance fighters all on his own.

He Joined The Resistance Toward The End Of The War And Slayed A German To Prove To The French He was With Them

Photo: Sichek/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel made the choice to switch sides to the French Resistance in 1944. LaFont and Bonny, for example, were arrested in December 1944 and executed by firing squad for collaboration and war atrocities after a brief trial. Loutrel, on the other hand, was able to demonstrate his devotion to the French cause by claiming he was protecting the Resistance when he shot a German acquaintance name Degatz, who identified him as a member of the Gestapo. 

He Once Went Off With French Actress Martine Carol, Then Apologized By Sending Her Roses

Photo: il_etait_une_fois_hollywood/Instagram

French actress Martine Carol found success first on the stage and later on film. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she appeared in numerous films and was considered the first “femme fatal.”

She was once abscanded with by Loutrel, although the whole event was incredibly brief. Loutrel sent roses the next day to apologize to Carol. Carol had a personal life plagued by bad marriages and drug and alcohol abuse, and she died in 1967.

He Was A Member Of Gang Des Tractions Avant, Named For The Type Of Cars They Drove During Their Heists

Photo: LAPI/Contributor/Roger Viollet

In his post-WWII thievery, Loutrel ran the Gang Des Tractions Avant, an organized unlawful syndicate that robbed banks and committed other various illegal acts in Paris. Made up of form French Gestapo, the members used the same car the Gestapo preferred to conduct their raids, the Citroën Traction Avant.

The Citroën Traction Avant, developed in the 1930s in France, had front-wheel drive, was quick and easy to drive, and was reliable so it was a smart choice. The car itself, however, was expensive to produce and bankrupted the Citroën company, which was then acquired by Michelin.

He Was France’s First Enemy No. 1

Photo: soniastrikesback/Instagram

Loutrel was so well known and his actions were so prolific that newspapers took to calling him Pierrot le Fou (“Crazy Pete”) during his mid-1940s spree. With pressure on them to capture Loutrel, French police escalated their efforts to track him down. His antics earned Loutrel the title of “public enemy No. 1,” the first ever in France.

The name Pierrot le Fou was later given to French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 movie about a man, Pierrot, on the run with a girl fleeing hitmen. 

He Escaped 350 Policemen On One Occasion In 1946

Photo: Library of Congress/Picryl/Public Domain

As the police stepped up efforts to stop Loutrel and his criminal gang, they gathered 350 officers around a cafe where the group was rumored to be meeting. The cops were all there but the unlawfuls were not. A local boy told the police he knew where Loutrel and his gang were, so all 350 police followed to boy to a local inn. The police found some gang members at the inn but not the ones they were looking for. Once again, Loutrel had evaded their efforts. 

He Died After Shooting Himself In The Bladder While Robbing A Store

Photo: Guise/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel managed to alienate the other members of the Gang des Traction Avant after about a year and a half. He didn’t give up thievary, however, and tried to rob a jewelry store in Paris in 1946. He was on his own, failed to get any money or jewels out of the deal, and as he tried to escape, he shot himself in the bladder while storing his gun. He suffered for five days until he finally died of his wound. 

He Was Buried By His Friends In 1946 And His Body Wasn’t Found Until 1949

Photo: Evan Schaaf/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Loutrel was secretly buried by two of his associates, Georges Bouseseiche and Jo Attia, after his death. Both men had been a members of La Carlingue but Attia had a falling out with LaFont in 1943 and was sent to Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria. All three men participated in the Gang des Tractions Avant activities after WWII.

Until The Police Had His Corpse, They Blamed Him For Unsolved Mysteries

Photo: Guise/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Because the police didn’t know Loutrel was dead, they continued to think he was committing unlawful acts and leading the Gang des Tractions Avant. Numerous robberies were credited to Loutrel until his body was discovered in 1949. To identify Loutrel, police circulated photos of Loutrel’s skull placed over pictures of him in life. 

Reference

14 Horrifying Facts About H.H. Holmes And His Nightmarish Murder Castle

.H. Holmes, also known as Henry Howard Holmes, was born Hermann Webster Mudgett in 1861. He changed his name after graduating from high school and embarking on a medical career that provided him with the skills needed to conduct his twisted experiments and gruesome acts. 

What H.H. Holmes did to his victims lives on in infamy, as he is credited with being one of the first serial slayers in America. Holmes built his murder castle – named for its specific purpose of providing him with a place to slay his targets – in Chicago, and opened its doors to tourists visiting the nearby World’s Fair in 1893. Some, if not all, of those tourists never made it home from the White City. What did the Devil in the White City do to them?

Holmes was detained by police in 1894 for insurance fraud, although the charges against him quickly expanded to include mass slaying. He received a capital sentence, and was hanged in May 1896. It’s believed that he took hundreds of lives, although he only confessed to ending 27. These H.H. Holmes facts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

He Built a Hotel-Turned-Murder Castle

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes used the money that he received from committing insurance fraud to construct his “murder castle” in Chicago. It was technically a three-story hotel, complete with a uniquely constructed second and third floor. There were gas chambers, trap doors, hidden rooms, disorienting maze-like hallways, chutes leading down into the basement (perfect for dumping cadavers), and other horrific features. In some rooms, blowtorches would set people on fire, while another was dubbed “the hanging room.” He also had each floor set up so that if someone moved around on it, an alarm system would sound.

The structure was technically a hotel, but it quickly became used as a machine for ending lives.

He Made His Fiancée Vanish Without A Trace

Holmes met Minnie Williams while out of town on a business trip. Williams was a teacher in Texas, and she fell for him very fast. They entered into a relationship, and she moved to Chicago to be with him. Her sister Annie joined them, too. Holmes proposed to Minnie, and suggested that she give him ownership of her property in Fort Worth, Texas.

After the transfer went through, she disappeared without a trace. Only some of her belongings, including a distinctive gold chain, were ever found. 

He Suffocated His Fiancée’s Sister In A Hotel Bank Vault

Photo: Unknown/Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Annie Williams was the sister of his wealthy fiancée Minnie. Unlike Minnie, who vanished, Annie’s remains were later recovered from Holmes’s creepy hotel. His hotel had been designed with a bank vault, which he used to keep records, store valuables – and commit heinous acts.

He asked Annie to go into the vault and retrieve some files for him, and then he swung the door shut, sealing her inside. She perished of suffocation after slowly using up all of the oxygen in the vault. Investigators found scratches from her fingernails, showing that she had tried to claw her way out.

He Gassed A Friend And Set Him On Fire, Then Took His Children

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The demise of Benjamin Pitezel was a tricky one, since he was one of Holmes’s co-conspirators, as well as one of his targets. He and Holmes arranged for Pitezel to fake his own passing so that Holmes could collect his life insurance money. Some of that money would then go to Pitezel himself.

However, the plan went awry when Holmes actually ended Pitezel. Holmes then ran off with several of Pitezel’s children. 

He Took The Lives Of Three Of Pitezel’s Children

Photo: davidraynisley/Pixabay/Public Domain

Holmes ended the Pitezel children’s father, Benjamin, in order to collect on his life insurance policy. 

He then ran off with three of Pitezel’s children – Alice, Nellie, and Howard – and took them to Toronto, where he soon took their lives, as well. 

He Asphyxiated His Victims With Gas Or Left Them To Perish In A Sealed Room

Photo: Unknown/Maxpixel/Public Domain

Holmes’s hotel was filled with all kinds of treacherous spaces. The rooms had well-sealed windows and doors that made it easy for Holmes to turn them into gas chambers. All that he had to do was lock the door and turn on the gas jets that he had built into the space.

There was also a room that had no windows or doors. The only access to it was via a trapdoor in the ceiling. Holmes would drop a person down there, seal up the trapdoor, and let them perish of thirst and starvation.

He Sold His Targets’ Organs And Bones To Medical Schools

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After Holmes ended some of his targets, they wound up in his basement laboratory, where they were dissected and then sold to medical schools.

He sold their organs, their bones, and in some cases, their fully articulated skeletons. This made it tough to determine exactly how many lives he took. 

He Had A Secret Hanging Chamber

Photo: Fraser Mummery/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

One of the most disturbing rooms in the hotel was the hanging room. 

Here, Holmes would end his targets by hanging them from the neck.

He Forced His Mistress To Overdose On Chloroform, Then Ended Her Daughter

Photo: Ernest Board/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Julia Smythe was one of Holmes’s mistresses. Smythe, one of his pharmacy employees, was married when the affair began. Her husband found out and ran off, leaving her and their daughter Pearl in Holmes’s clutches.

Smythe and her daughter eventually disappeared, with Holmes claiming that Smythe perished from a botched abortion attempt.

He Burned Some People Alive With Blowtorches Hidden In The Walls

Photo: Clint Budd/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

During the World’s Fair in Chicago, Holmes offered rooms to out-of-town visitors. They paid to stay in his hotel, only to end up never leaving the city again.

Some rooms had blowtorches built into them. All Holmes had to do was pull a switch and the person in that space would burn alive. 

He Made The Widow Who Owned His Building Disappear

Photo: Anders Zorn/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

H.H. Holmes began his life of villainy while still in medical school. He took out life insurance policies on the school cadavers, then mutilated them to look as though they had perished in a tragic accident. He would then collect the policy money.

While this helped him cover his expenses, he had to get a job after graduating and receiving his medical license. He started out working as a pharmacist in Chicago. The owner of the drugstore perished, and Holmes offered to buy the entire store from the owner’s widow. She agreed, and then vanished after the paperwork was signed and Holmes officially took possession of the store. She was never to be heard from again, although Holmes claimed she moved to California. It is believed that she was one of his first targets. 

The Floor Plan Was Designed Just To Disorient And Trap Guests

Photo: Fright Find

Even the hallways and doors of the Murder Castle were designed to guide H. H. Holmes’s victims to their deaths. Some rooms had multiple doors, while others had none at all. With so many ways to get from one side of the hotel to another, only someone familiar with the design would really know the best way to get around quickly.

The south end of the hotel’s second floor, on the other hand, was a claustrophobic mess of narrow, doorless hallways set at odd angles. Holmes used this carefully planned layout to mislead, confuse, and ambush his guests, who never stood a chance of finding the right way out again.

His Perverse Interests Started With Childhood Bullying

Photo: Jesse Krauß/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes’s father abused Holmes, who was unusually bright. Holmes was also often picked on by his classmates. One day, a group of schoolmates locked him in a doctor’s office with a human skeleton.

At first, Holmes was scared, but as he stood there, he found himself overcome with morbid fascination. Soon after, he became obsessed with lifeless bodies and began dissecting animals.

He Wanted To Make Sure His Body Would Never Be Dissected

Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes received capital punishment on May 7, 1896. He reportedly acted extremely calm in the moments leading up to his passing, but he did have one unusual request. He asked that his coffin be encased in cement and buried 10 feet deep. Possibly, Holmes feared becoming the target of grave robbers like himself.

Holmes’s hanging was not a neat affair. The initial fall failed to break his neck, and instead he dangled from the rope until he perished from a slow asphyxiation almost 15 minutes later.

How HH Holmes Went From Troubled Youth To America’s First Serial Killer

By the time H. H. Holmes was hanged for murdering his business partner in 1896, he had already committed numerous atrocities in Chicago, IL, as well as various scams and frauds throughout the United States.

Holmes is thought to have killed at least nine people, although some research estimates his kill count is much higher, potentially in the hundreds as a result of his Murder Castle in Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893.

H.H. Holmes’s origin story has been widely sensationalized by both curious readers and writers (2003’s The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson details Holmes’s murder spree in Chicago and was a National Book Award Finalist) as well as by Holmes himself.

Before his execution, Holmes wrote several lengthy confessions at the payment of Hearst, all of which made contradictory claims about his life and his participation in various murders. In the confessions, Holmes claimed to have killed 27 people, although many of those named were still alive when he wrote it.

No details about Holmes’s childhood (real or fabricated) can make sense of the horror he unleashed on the world as America’s first serial killer through his web of murder and deceit.

Holmes’s Parents (May Have Been) Physically And Mentally Abusive

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Do

H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in the small town of Gilmanton, NH, in 1861. Both Holmes’s parents were intensely religious, and used their Methodist beliefs to parent with cold, strict discipline.

According to some sources, this mistreatment included forcing the children into long periods of isolation and making them go without food. There are also claims that Holmes’s father used rags dunked in kerosene to quiet the cries of his children.

However, other researchers believe such claims about Holmes’s parents are false, and by all accounts he had a regular upbringing. Holmes himself wrote:

That I was well trained by loving and religious parents, I know, and any deviations in my after life from the straight and narrow way of rectitude are not attributable to the want of a tender mother’s prayers or a father’s control, emphasized, when necessary, by the liberal use of the rod wielded by no sparing hand.

Known as a serial liar and fraudster, it’s difficult to know what to believe about Holmes’s childhood years.

His Fascination With Dead Bodies Started From Being Bullied

Photo: Jerome Walker/Wikimedia/Public Domain

At school, Holmes was bullied for his intelligence and odd nature. The bullying climaxed in a traumatic episode wherein schoolmates ambushed Holmes and forced him into a doctor’s office where they placed the hands of a skeleton on his face. Holmes claimed the incident sparked his interest in anatomy and medicine:

It was a wicked and dangerous thing to do to a child of tender years and health… but it proved an heroic method of treatment, destined ultimately of curing me of my fears, and to inculcate in me, first, a strong feeling of curiosity, and, later a desire to learn, which resulted years afterwards in my adopting medicine as a profession.

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

Seeking respite from his home life, young Holmes often retreated into the forest around his family’s house where he started to experiment with the dissection of animals.

Holmes began by cutting up the bodies of small reptiles and other small creatures, then moved on to mammals, including rabbits and dogs. This type of behavior is said to have sparked Holmes’s interest in human anatomy. It also made him comfortable with dissection.

He May Have Killed His Childhood Best Friend

When Holmes was 11 years old, his childhood best friend Tom – who was older – fell from the landing of an abandoned home the two boys had been exploring.

Holmes said he saw Tom fall, but in hindsight, many believe that he could’ve been close enough to push Tom off the landing.

Holmes Won Over His First Wife By Threatening Other Suitors

Holmes (although he still went by Herman Webster Mudgett at the time) met his future first wife Clara Lovering when they were both teenagers. After he saw Lovering flirting with someone else at a church gathering, Holmes approached the couple and threatened the boy with violence if he didn’t leave.

Holmes then escorted the seemingly impressed Lovering home, officially beginning their courtship which quickly escalated into a marriage when they were both 17.

He May Have Beaten His First Wife, Clara Lovering

Photo: Library Of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division/N

According to some sources, housemates from Clara Lovering’s short time living with Holmes at the University of Michigan remembered regular arguments between the two and seeing Lovering with bruises.

While it’s difficult to say if these events occurred – as no police report was filed –  Lovering and the baby did eventually leave Holmes, and the two never reunited. They were, however, still formally married when Holmes died.

When He Was In College, He Began Using Dead Bodies To Commit Insurance Fraud

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

During his medical studies at the University of Michigan, Holmes began to steal bodies from the school’s laboratory then mangeling or burning the remains. By making the bodies unrecognizable, he collected money on life insurance policies after the bodies were found and deemed accidental deaths.

Holmes also stole bodies from graves and morgues to sell them to medical schools, or to use for his own research and dissection. This scam earned Holmes thousands of dollars. 

His Landlord Found A Dead Baby Under His Bed

There are many stories recalling Holmes’s fascination with anatomy and the body during his childhood and subsequent years in medical school. One claim came from his landlady who recalled following a foul stench into Holmes’s room where she found a dead infant underneath his bed.

Allegedly, Holmes claimed the body was part of his homework. While this didn’t result in any legal action, he was told not to bring his work home with him again.

He Regularly Got Engaged To Steal Money From His Fianceés

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

Holmes married Clara Lovering, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, in 1878 and she gave birth to their son Robert Lovering Mudgett. Holmes then used a combination of Lovering’s money and the funds from various life insurance scams to pay for medical school at the University of Michigan.

This was not the last time Holmes preyed upon the women who loved him for financial gain. On his way to Chicago after medical school (while still legally married to Lovering), Holmes tied the knot with Myrta Belknap. Belknap’s parents were wealthy and provided Holmes with enough money to purchase the vacant lot where his Murder Castle was eventually built when he got to Chicago.

Holmes put the deed under the name of his new wife and her mother in order to keep the creditors from catching on.

He Fled To Chicago To Avoid A Mountain Of Debt

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

After Holmes graduated from medical school he worked a variety of odd jobs, including teaching school and working as a doctor in Mooers Forks, NY. Holmes wracked up a great deal of debt during this time, often making up excuses to default on rent.

Eventually Holmes left town in the middle of the night to avoid paying. He wound up in Chicago, IL, the city where he later built his Murder Castle and kill at least nine people, although some estimates reach up into the hundreds of victims.

He Changed His Name To H.H. Holmes

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domai

Contrary to popular belief, Holmes did not change his name to reflect or comment on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in any way.The Great Detective Holmes didn’t appear in print until 1887, a year after real-life Holmes changed his name.

Instead, Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Harry Howard Holmes when he sat for his pharmaceutical licensure test in May of 1886, just after moving to Chicago to find work in a drug store.In doing so, Holmes kicked off his career as a serial killer that peaked during the 1893 World’s Fair.

He Was Quite The Womanizer

Holmes was notoriously charming and likeable. Apparently it was common practice for him to become engaged to a woman, ask her to sign over her property and wealth to him, then tell any suspicious people his beloved had left town suddenly.

This charm and ease served Holmes well when he employed and hosted young women in his Murder Castle in 1893 Chicago, IL. Preying upon women who were new in town, Holmes gained their trust before murdering them. He also reportedly got in trouble while in school for making a woman believe they were engaged.

He Was Constantly In Trouble With The Law, But Not For Murder

Photo: The Herald, Los Angeles, CA/Chronicling America/Public Domain

Even before his murder spree, H.H. Holmes was a notorious scammer and conman. He swindled money from various women, insurance companies, and landlords in multiple cities. Holmes also refused to pay bills, even on his Murder Castle. He told the builders he was not responsible or liable for their payment, as he’d put the building under his mother-in-law’s name.

Holmes was also known to buy items on credit and sell them for cash, and he was constantly the target of lawsuits. He even sold scam cures for various health problems at his pharmacy. In Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City, the author claims the Chicago chief of police had even represented Holmes in small “routine commercial lawsuits” before Holmes was brought in on murder charges.

Authorities Never Found The Bodies Of His First Victims

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

While accounts vary on who Holmes’s first victim was, it’s widely accepted that Julia Connor – Holmes’s lover – and her 8-year-old daughter Pearl were the first casualties of Holmes’s murder spree.

Holmes had been taking out debts in Connor’s name and listing her as a co-founder of multiple businesses. Connor and Pearl vanished on July 4, 1891, and their bodies were never found.

Not long after Connor’s disappearance, Holmes installed a basement furnace, and his secretary Emeline Cigrand also went missing. Around this time, many women in Holmes’s circle went missing.

Holmes Completed And Operated His Murder Castle

In 1887, Holmes purchased a vacant lot on the same street as the pharmacy where he worked and began construction on his Murder Castle, complete with hidden passageways and compartments, trapdoors, and secret staircases.

While estimates vary, some sources suggest Holmes may have killed hundreds of people while the Castle was in operation, mostly young women who were visiting or working in Chicago for the World’s Fair. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, however only nine have been plausibly attributed to him, and many of those he confessed to murdering were still alive.

Ultimately, it was the murder of his business partner Benjamin Pietzel (and allegedly Pietzel’s three children) that finally put Holmes behind bars and eventually on the gallows, effectively ending the first serial killing spree in America.

Reference

Tragedy At The Hollywood Sign: The Haunting Sage Of Peg Entwistle

The young actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywoodland sign epitomised the cruelty of the film industry. What drove her to it?

The actress Peg Entwistle in 1932, shortly before her death in Hollywood CREDIT: Alamy

The heartbreaking story of Peg Entwistle, the 24-year-old “Blond Brit” who jumped to her death from the original Hollywoodland sign in 1932, was a major inspiration for the new television series Hollywood. When the Netflix show was being planned by scriptwriters Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, they discussed Entwistle’s story, and wove a fictional attempt to create a biopic of the tragic actress into the plot, for a show Brennan calls “a fable of what could have been”.

Entwistle was dubbed “The Hollywood Sign Girl”, and (before the coronavirus lockdown) her name was invoked most days by tourist-bus guides as a symbol of the dark side of the Hollywood dream, a cautionary tale of a struggling actress who became more famous in death than she’d been in life. She had supposedly destroyed herself because of a failed career, and was said to haunt the site where she died. But, as Oscar Wilde noted, the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Entwistle’s story has been distorted over the years.

Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot on February 5 1908, and grew up in Comeragh Road in London’s West Kensington area. She suffered more than her share of pain and misery. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth and her father Robert took her to New York in 1913 to live with his new wife Lauretta. He did some acting and she would grab any chance to watch Broadway shows, even as a child, memorising scripts to put on her own productions at home. At 13, she started going by the name Peg, after seeing the play Peg O’ My Heart.

The first shattering blow came in April 1921, when Lauretta died of bacterial meningitis at 35, leaving behind two toddlers of her own. The second came in November 1922, when a limousine smashed into Peg’s father, in a hit-and-run crime on Park Avenue. The impact snapped his spine and he died from a resulting brain haemorrhage on December 19, aged 48. He was buried with Lauretta three days before Christmas. Peg was just 14 and she, Bobby and Milton were taken under the care of Robert’s brother Charles – a theatre manager – and his wife Jane.

After a spell in a girls’ boarding school in Los Angeles and some home tutoring, Entwistle finally landed the chance to pursue her dream of a stage acting career when, at 16, she joined The Boston Repertory Theatre company. Her first credited role was as a maid, and she was playing 12 shows a week. Entwistle earned good reviews for her performances in The Uninvited Guest and Alice Sit-By-The-Fire.

A young Bette Davis, who saw Entwistle on stage in 1925 and was bowled over by her talent CREDIT: Hulton Archive

The 17-year-old made a huge impression on teenager Bette Davis, who saw Entwistle as Hedvig in a 1925 production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Jewett Playhouse in Boston. “A whole new world opened up to me. I was thrilled with Miss Entwistle’s performance,” Davis recalled in her 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life.

Entwistle’s success in Boston led to roles on Broadway within a year. In all, she appeared in 10 plays as a member of the New York Theatre Guild. She was profiled by the New York Times in February 1927 when she was part of the hit show Tommy, which ran for 232 performances. That year, however, she made a terrible choice, one that would have fateful repercussions. In April 1927, after a whirlwind four-day courtship, the 19-year-old married fellow Guild actor Robert Lee Keith. He was a 29-year-old recovering alcoholic – and had not told his young bride that he was already twice divorced, and had a six-year-old son.

The marriage was a disaster. She terminated a pregnancy in their first year together, having no desire for her own children and fearing it would disrupt her acting career. Keith began drinking heavily again, wasting funds from his new wife. Entwistle was deeply shocked when a New York detective came up to them in a restaurant and threatened to arrest Keith for owing $1,000 in alimony to his first wife. Keith later assaulted Peg in a hotel room, dragging her by the hair.

Entwistle divorced Keith in April 1929, by which time he’d been fired and blacklisted by the Guild. She was now struggling to hold on to her own acting career. In May 1929, after a run in a play based on Sherlock Holmes, she told The Oakland Tribune that she was worried she was “cheating herself” by taking on flimsy characters, expressing a wish that she could “play roles that carry conviction”. At the end of 1929, depressed and anxious about what the future held, she relocated to Hollywood.

Entwistle in a Hollywood publicity shot; she would only appear in one film CREDIT: Alamy

Bad luck came into the equation at this point, because she gambled on making a successful film debut and reneged on a handshake commitment with influential producer Bela Blau to appear in a Broadway version of The Mad Hopes. Instead, she accepted a deal from RKO. Radio Pictures to appear in a movie adaptation of Tiffany Thayer’s bestselling novel Thirteen Women, produced by David O Selznick. The morbid nature of the film could not have helped. Entwistle played Hazel Clay Cousins in a thriller about a girl who uses swami-like powers to coerce her friends into murder or suicide. In the screenplay, Entwistle’s tormented character is brainwashed into stabbing her husband.

Unfortunately, concerns from censors over lesbian undertones meant the final film was cut to 59 minutes, with Entwistle’s screen time dropping from 18 to four minutes. Variety dismissed the film as “a butcher shop drama” when it came out on 16 September 1932. By that time RKO, suffering during The Depression, had told Entwistle they were releasing her from their contract, having passed her over for a part in Bill of Divorcement, a role that went instead to Katharine Hepburn.

The walls were closing in on the young actress. Her reputation in the world of New York theatre had been harmed by her U-turn over The Mad Hopes and she was running short of money. All her clothes and furniture were repossessed in New York in lieu of rent owed on an apartment. She had no alternative but to live with her aunt and uncle on North Beachwood Drive.

Just at this low point, she discovered that Keith had re-married, was sober and flourishing again as a playwright, along with his fourth wife Dorothy Tierney, another actress. Entwistle’s former husband went on to star in more than 40 films, including Men in War and Guys and Dolls. (But there was a horrific postscript to his family story: Brian Keith, the stepson who’d been kept secret from Entwistle, also made it as an actor, appearing in Disney’s 1961 hit The Parent Trap. In 1997, his 26-year-old daughter Daisy, an aspiring actress, shot herself; two months later, grief-stricken Brian Keith used the same gun to end his life in his Malibu home.)

The original Hollywoodland sign; Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the letter H CREDIT: Bettmann

Career struggles and failures in love were taking a toll on Entwistle. Her uncle later confided to police officers that he had been aware of her “intense mental anguish” in the days leading up to her suicide. The news of her axing by RKO was printed in Los Angeles’s newspapers on September 16.

Two days later, on a Sunday night, Entwistle told her uncle she was going out for a “rendezvous” to meet friends at a nearby drug-store. Instead, she headed for the famous Hollywoodland sign that had been erected in 1923 to promote local house sales. It’s a cruel twist that she had watched, as an excited teenager, as the 13 white letters, 45 feet tall, were hauled up Beachwood Drive on their way to being erected. The 150-foot sign must have made a dazzling sight during her arduous trek up the canyon hill. At the time, the sign was lit at night-time by 4,000 bulbs, and groups of letters flashed in sequence: HOLLY, then WOOD, then LAND — then all of them at once.

Entwistle took off her shoes and neatly folded her coat, placing it on the ground with her purse. She climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H, looked out over Hollywood, a place where she had once loved horseback riding in the hills with her younger brother Bobby, and then leapt off the edge. Her precise reasons for choosing the location – convenience, or a desire to gain notoriety – are not known. A note from Entwistle’s purse read: “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

The cause of death listed by the coroner was “multiple fractures of the pelvis” and he ruled it “suicide due to despondency”. It is likely that Entwistle bled out internally, her organs punctured by bone shards. On Tuesday 20 September, an officer at Los Angeles’s Central Police Station took a call from an anonymous hiker who said she had found a woman’s possessions near the sign. Before hanging up, the caller revealed she had left the items on the steps of the station.

The police found her body in a ravine at the base of the sign. After identifying Entwistle’s corpse, her uncle, in an unguarded moment, told a reporter that his niece had “failed to click at RKO”. The newspapers had found their juicy “line”. “Suicide Laid to Film Jinx,” was the headline in The Los Angeles Times. “Movieland tragedy – the bruised body of a girl who failed,” The New York Times reported.

It’s also not clear how much truth there is in reports that she was sent letters on the day of her suicide with new offers of work. The letters allegedly arrived after her death. Some reports say an offer of a play came from the Hollywood Playhouse, others claim that RKO rescinded the decision to release her from her contract. Entwistle’s funeral was held in Hollywood and her ashes were sent to Ohio to be interred with her father’s. The grave remained unmarked until 2010, when a Facebook campaign raised money for an engraved granite headstone.

Over the years, a desire for salacious explanations grew. In the 1960s, there were reports that Entwistle had posed for naked photographs and been worried about a moral backlash hurting her career. In fact, the picture theory was simply a blunder. Kenneth Anger’s 1965 book Hollywood Babylon incorrectly labelled a semi-nude picture of another actress, a woman whose only similarity was a platinum bob, as Peg Entwistle. The mistake was corrected in the second edition but by then the damage to her posthumous reputation was done.

Netflix’s Hollywood drama is simply the latest project to pick over her bones. In 1972, Dory Previn released the song Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign (“a symbol of dreams turns out to be a sign of disillusion”). Three years later John Schlesinger’s movie version of Nathanael West’s satirical novel The Day of the Locust featured a scene in which a tour guide at the base of the sign recounts how “Camille McRae, 1929 Clam Queen of Pismo Beach” leapt to her death from “the great H”. American History X director Tony Kaye proposed a biopic about Entwistle in 2014, though it wasn’t commissioned. Singer Lana Del Rey’s video for her 2017 song Lust for Life was set on top of that same letter – and the song had references to the story.

Entwistle has also proved useful to the ghost-tour industry, with organised visits to see the sites of numerous reported visions of phantom Pegs. When the letter H fell down in 1944, it was attributed to Entwistle’s spirit, rather than the more likely explanation of rotten wood and high winds. Numerous dog-walkers and park rangers in the past half century have reported supposed sightings of the apparition of a blonde woman, dressed in 1930s clothing, who was “haunting the Hollywood sign”. There have also been accounts of people smelling gardenias, which was said to be Entwistle’s favourite fragrance. (A whole episode of Syfy’s Paranormal Witness was devoted to this story.)

In 2014, on the anniversary of her suicide, more than 100 people gathered above the gateways to the Hollywood sign –it had lost the LAND section in 1949 – to eat popcorn and watch Entwistle in a special outdoor screening of Thirteen Women. Although that was her only film role, she had been a successful stage actress, earning recognition for her performances. “When she came to Hollywood, she got recognised,” James Zeruk Jr, her biographer, wrote. “One time, she was out to dinner with her aunt and another actress and some people asked for her autograph because they saw her in a play in New York a month earlier.”

Entwistle was so much more than just the poor “Hollywood Sign Girl”. Late in life, Oscar winner Bette Davis looked back on the fate of an anguished young woman who had once done so much to inspire her own acting career. “She jumped to her death,” wrote Davis. “She could have had an enormous career, this girl.”

Reference

Gay History: Queer, Black & Blue: Sister Rosetta Tharpe Is Muva Of Them All

Artwork by Kendrick Daye

Rock-n-Roll was invented by a queer Black woman born in 1915 Arkansas. Your disordered hardcore punk rock was sanctioned by a kinky-haired Black girl born to two cotton pickers in the Jim Crow South. The electric guitar was first played in ways very few people could have ever imagined by a woman who wasn’t even allowed to play at music venues around the country.

The Patron Saint of rock music is Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The original punk rebel from which we were all born, SRT is muva.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to parents Katie Bell Nubin and Willis Atkins. Two regular folks both passionate about music. Growing up in the Church of God in Christ (her mother was a preacher), religious worship through musical expression, Tharpe musicality was fostered in an encouraging environment from the jump. Described as a music prodigy, four-year-old Nubin began singing and playing her beloved guitar in the church. Even in that way, Tharpe is representative of an American musical history born in the Black church.

By six, Tharpe was a featured performer in a traveling evangelical troupe where she accompanied her mother to gospel concerts all across the country, playing with people like Duke Ellington, before eventually settling in Chicago. Traveling influenced her a lot, and her music was flavored both by urban contemporary and the sounds of rural, backwoods towns. By 19, she had met and married Thomas Thorpe, a preacher, too. But that didn’t last long. And by 1948, ol’ girl had left her husband—taking his last name with her, which she adopted as a stage name. Thanks for that, Thomas.

1938 would turn out to be a banner year for Tharpe. During this time she recorded her first pieces of music, with the backing of Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra, This would mark the first time a gospel act would lay down tracks for Decca Records, a British lael that boasted other icons like Bing Crosby. But Tharpe was still just an icon in the making. Somewhat of a legend all on her own. During this time she came out with her first hit, “Rock Me” by Thomas Dorsey. And that shit is kinda emo! And powerful. Not only a talented guitarist, but Tharpe’s soaring vocals on the track also knock the wind out of you to this day.

Performing as both a solo artist and occasionally in collaborations with groups like the all-white group, the Jordanaires and Cab Calloway, Tharpe brought her show to places like the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. Shocking and then captivating audiences, most people at that time had never even seen a Black woman play an electric guitar before. Let alone one who could command one to make such noises. Both controversial and respected for her undeniability, SRT brought gospel music to mainstream popularity every night she performed. Blending the sounds of her childhood with jazz, blues, and the genre she was inventing all her own. Even when this ostracized her from the gospel community.

In 1944, another seminal year in Tharpe’s career, she released “Strange Things Happening Every Day”. A song that went on to become the first gospel to chart on Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade (now R&B chart). It is considered by some to be the first rock song, ever. Fast-forward two years and Tharpe is witnessing Marie Knight and Mahalia Jackson live in concert in New York City. Utterly spellbound by Marie Knight, Tharpe tracked her down and the two set out to perform together. While Knight sang and played piano, SRT did both, plus guitar. The two became lovers and creative partners through the rest of the decade. During this time they recorded “Up Above My Head”.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe continued to tour and make new music throughout the fifties and into the sixties. In 1964 she performed the now infamous show at an abandoned railroad station where it was broadcast nationwide in England. Dressed in that luxurious fur coat and driven by a horse-drawn carriage, Tharpe was rock-and-roll royalty whether people knew it then or not. Regardless of how historic and inspirational this show was, the sixties were when her popularity began to fade. Blues began to surge and she toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan alongside Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. But with the rise of male and white rock singers and musicians who appealed more to mainstream culture–as well as Tharpe’s devotion to recording religious material—she was pushed to the fringes of the musical movements she helped inspire.

And inspired many she did. Everyone from Chuck Berry to Elvis was influenced by Tharpe’s musicality. During his induction speech at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the Man in Black, Johnny Cash shouted her out as his favorite singer. A fact daughter-in-law Rosanne would later back up. Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Aretha Franklin credit her musicianship as an important influence on them. “She influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard,” says Tharpe’s biographer Gayle Wald. “She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.”

“When people would ask her about her music,” Wald says, “she would say, ‘Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I’ve been doing that forever.’”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe died from a stroke in Philadelphia in 1973. She had been living there with her mother in a modest home after her leg was amputated as the result of diabetes-related complications. Marie Knight was there to do the makeup and hair for her burial. Tharpe was buried in an unmarked Philly grave that has since been annotated.

Reference

On The Trail Of Yma Sumac: The Exotica Legend Came From Peru, But Her Career Was All Hollywood

Yma Sumac poses for a portrait seen on the cover of her legendary 1950 album, “Voice of the Yxtabay.”(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

As a Peruvian kid growing up in Southern California, I’d pick through my father’s record collection, between the LPs of Peruvian creole waltzes and Mexican ballads, to admire a strange album by an alluring woman dripping in jewelry, posing before an erupting volcano.

The album was “Voice of the Xtabay.” And the woman was Yma Sumac, the Peruvian songstress with the four-octave voice that launched the musical genre known as exotica, a cinematic fusion of international styles that allowed mid-20th century audiences a taste of the mysterious and the remote.

Sumac was the imperious, raven-haired Inca princess — “descendant of the last of the Incan kings,” according to lore — who maintained an extensive wardrobe stocked with sumptuous gowns, her crimson lipstick always applied to perfection. It was this Peruvian girl’s ultimate fantasy.

It was also a piece of fiction. Yma Sumac may have been from Peru. But her exotic Peruvian persona was invented in Los Angeles.

“Hollywood took this nice girl who wanted to be a folk singer, dressed her up and said she was a princess,” says her biographer, Nicholas E. Limansky, author of “Yma Sumac: The Art Behind the Legend.”

“And she acted like it.”

“Voice of the Xtabay,” the 1950 album that introduced her to global audiences, seemed like otherworldly evidence of her power.

It opens with the smash of a gong, ringing in “Taita Inty,” a song described as a “traditional Incan hymn that dates back to 1000 B.C.” (Never mind that the Inca civilization didn’t get rolling until more than 2,000 years later.) It segues to tunes like “Tumpa,” full of guttural scatting that evokes a wah-wah trumpet. All of it is held together by Sumac’s operatic trills, which could leap from low growls to high-C coloratura that sounded as if it could shatter glass.

“She took Peruvian traditional music, set it in the popular music vein and sang it with the voice of a coloratura soprano but infused it with jazz and blues,” says Limansky. “It’s a fascinating concoction.”

With composer Les Baxter setting Sumac’s Andean stylings and symphonic interludes against groovier beats, “Xtabay” bore no resemblance to any Peruvian music I grew up with or have heard on any trip to Peru. (Gongs, for one, are from Asia, not the Andes.) The album sounds more like a soundtrack for a ’50s-era jungle epic, featuring melodies that beg for a rum drink in a ceramic Polynesian tumbler. It was irresistible.

Added to this were the machinations of the overheated publicity department at Hollywood’s Capitol Records, which fabricated all manner of legends about Sumac, the supposed Inca blue-blood, crooner of “mysterious” Andean hymns, as a way of drawing the public’s attention.

Among them: that the album’s title song, “Xtabay,” was about the legend of a “young Incan virgin” who had a “forbidden love” with a “high prince of an Aztec kingdom.” No such legend exists.

Audiences, however, ate it up. So did I. To me, Sumac was a rare representation of the Andean in U.S. popular culture (albeit one distorted by the funhouse mirror that is the entertainment industry). And it was a representation soaked in glamour. 

Sumac’s boom years were in the ’50s and ’60s, but thanks in part to Capitol’s epic myth-making, she had a surprisingly long career. performing into the 1990s, when she was well into her 70s.

Her first significant appearance, at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1950, was received with astonishment followed by rapturous applause. From there flowed numerous albums — including my favorite, “Mambo!” from 1954 — as well as performances all over the U.S. and Europe. In 1960, she undertook a historic 40-city tour of what was then the Soviet Union that lasted for months.

Cult following

Over the course of her life, Sumac appeared on television talk shows from Steve Allen to David Letterman. Her music has appeared in commercials and on numerous Hollywood soundtracks, including “The Big Lebowski” and “Mad Men.” And it’s been sampled by hip-hop musicians. The Black Eyed Peas employed the groovy opening from “Bo Mambo” in their 2003 single “Hands Up.”

Today, eight years after her death at age 86, Sumac remains the subject of fan sites, Pinterest pages and Facebook groups. She’s inspired a veritable rabbit hole of lip-sync videos on YouTube. (One by Argentine actor Luciano Rosso, looking piratical, is particularly delirious.) Last fall, she received the ultimate digital nod when she was featured as the Google Doodle on the 94th anniversary of her birth.

Sumac could have easily gone down in the history books as a musical footnote. And if she’d remained a run-of-the-mill folk singer, she probably would have. But the combination of her beauty, her unusual music and the colorful stories that surrounded her transformed her into a legend with a devoted cult following. (I was once chastised on social media by a fan for not being sufficiently reverent.)

The high camp didn’t hurt either — the feathered headdresses and eyeliner on fleek — not to mention her stage design, with Styrofoam volcanoes and totems. A Times review of a 1955 concert at the Shrine Auditorium notes her “phenomenal voice” as well as “a touch of the ridiculous,” namely a set studded with “pillars of fire.”

“She was unique in the combination of things that she embodied,” says Peruvian anthropologist Zoila Mendoza, chair of UC Davis’ Native American studies department and daughter of a woman who was close friends with Sumac as a teen. “It was a whole fantasy.”

Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Peru’s Cajamarca region of the northern Andes on Sept. 13, 1922. (She later took the stage name Imma Summack, her mother’s name, which morphed into Yma Sumac after her move to the U.S.)

She was not, as one Parisian publication once wrote, raised in a “miserable hut of dried earth.” In fact, her well-to-do family included a physician and a judge. Her father was involved in local civic affairs; her mother was a school teacher.

“Definitely she was elite in the area,” says Mendoza, who’s studied indigenous performance in the Andes and written about Sumac.

As a teen, Sumac moved to Lima to go to school. It was there in Peru’s capital that she met Moisés Vivanco, a noted folk musician who would shape her early career — and whom she would ultimately marry and divorce (twice). One popular Sumac legend, crafted by the fabulists at Capitol Records, has Vivanco traveling for days to a “remote mountain region” to seek out the singer known for “talking” with the “birds, the beasts, the winds.”

Not quite. Vivanco met Sumac at a rehearsal in Lima, where, after hearing her sing, he invited her to participate in a folkloric event.

L.A. is full of people like her. People like Angelyne — these self-invented people. Joy Silverman, former director of LACE

All of this raises the issue of Sumac’s supposed Inca lineage. Her mother’s surname, Atahualpa, was that of the last Inca emperor. Whether that made Sumac a real-deal royal (or someone who could even claim indigenous identity) is unknown.

She likely spoke some Quechua, one of the principal indigenous languages of the Andes, as did most people who then lived in the highlands. But she was a fair-skinned mestiza, a mix of Spanish and Indian. “She was white compared to most Andean people,” Mendoza notes. “She had green eyes. She and my mother were very close friends. My mom also has green eyes. So they were these two pretty Andean women with green eyes.”

But Sumac emerged at a time when Peru was paying more attention to its indigenous roots. The wide dissemination of the archaeological wonders at Machu Picchu after 1911 brought attention to the country’s resplendent Inca past.

“In that context, the whole institution of folklore emerged,” says Mendoza, referring to the burgeoning industry built around Andean indigenous music. Recordings were made, radio programs launched and festivals held.

Sumac’s early repertoire reflected this musical current, including, for example, huaynos, brisk Andean highland ballads featuring strings and flute. (Some of these are in the 2013 compilation album by Blue Orchid Records: “Early Yma Sumac: The Imma Summack Sessions.”)

“By the time Yma Sumac came about, there was a whole infrastructure that allowed her to become a national figure,” Mendoza explains. “Before that, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Incas in the deli

Sumac and Vivanco became well known in Peru and had successful engagements in the important Latin American media centers of Argentina and Mexico. A successful recital at Mexico City’s prestigious Palacio de Bellas Artes came at the invitation of Mexico’s president. In 1946, the pair moved to New York City, figuring that their success in Latin America boded well for the U.S. market.

But American audiences weren’t exactly rushing out to see Andean folk music. Sumac’s early years in New York, as part of a group called the Inca Taqui Trio, were spartan. They played supper clubs, Borscht Belt resorts, business conventions and, for a time, a delicatessen in New York’s Greenwich Village, where a magazine writer for Collier’s would later write that Sumac could be found performing “in a back room richly blanketed with the aroma of pickled herring, salami and liverwurst.”

Hollywood took this nice girl who wanted to be a folk singer, dressed her up and said she was a princess. And she acted like it.

— Nicholas E. Limansky, biographer of Yma Sumac

The trio nonetheless developed a following. One local television appearance sparked the interest of a talent agent who helped Sumac land a deal at Capitol. The Inca Taqui Trio was too folkloric for the label, so the label instead built an album around Sumac’s voice.

Enter: Exotica master Baxter, and a post-World War II U.S. public ready to be seduced by fantasy.

Also, enter: Los Angeles.

The record deal necessitated a move to Southern California, and by the late 1940s the couple were comfortably ensconced in tony Cheviot Hills on L.A.’s Westside. The move was key in Sumac’s metamorphosis from talented folk singer to Inca exotica pioneer.

“I don’t know if this could have happened in another city,” says Limanksy. “New York has Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera … famous classical institutions, and things were geared around that. But in Los Angeles, you had the film industry and everything that entailed. Her whole transformation, it does smack of Hollywood. … It was very cinematic.”

The tarted-up Inca princess identity was not something that Sumac was initially wild about. “She wanted to be a folk performer,” says Limansky. “She really didn’t like it at all.”

But once Sumac re-invented herself, forced like many performers to create a new sound in the name of success, she embraced the role with haughty grandeur. Known for striding on stage as if she’d arrived to reclaim her empire, she demanded the undivided attention of her public. In later years, she’d storm off if spectators so much as opened their mouths.

“She looked like a princess and she acted like one,” says Limansky, who attended some of her New York shows in the ’80s. “She was entertaining, but not in a ‘let me get in your face and laugh with you’ kind of way. … She was very formal with the audience.”

This regal quality translated to her roles in Hollywood films.

In 1954, she appeared in the Charlton Heston adventure flick “Secret of the Incas” as Quechua maiden Kori-Tika. In it, Sumac gives a pair of surreal mountain-top performances at Machu Picchu. She also throws serious side eye at Heston’s European love interest, played by Nicole Maurey. When Maurey tells her, “You speak English very well,” Kori-Tika replies cattily, “So do you.”

It’s a very different depiction from that other mid-century South American icon, Carmen Miranda, “the Brazilian bombshell,” seen as the flirty Latin party girl in the towering fruit hat. Sumac was way too royal for that.

Interestingly, Sumac’s noble persona (a role some say she came to believe) was built around ideas of Inca culture that had blossomed during Peru’s indigenist period ideas that weren’t always rooted in fact.

“When she became a folkloric artist in the ’30s, there had been a couple of decades in Peru of composers and musicians who had been creating symphonies and these really sophisticated pieces of music based on an invented idea of what the Inca sound was like,” says Mendoza. “It had very little to do with what contemporary indigenous people were actually playing.”

Sumac was channeling a concocted notion of Inca identity as an invented Inca princess. A fiction born in Peru adds another layer of fiction in Hollywood, and from that fiction rises Yma Sumac. What could be more Los Angeles?

“L.A. is full of people like her,” says Joy Silverman, director of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions through most of the ’80s. “People like Angelyne — these self-invented people.”

In the late 1980s, Silverman asked Sumac to perform at a LACE fundraiser when the organization was located in downtown L.A., a pioneer in what is now the thriving Arts District.

“She was exactly what you would imagine,” Silverman says. “You were in the presence of this dramatic Peruvian songbird. She was never out of character.”

Around the same time, Sumac also appeared — in sleek shades and plumed hat — in one of l.a.Eyeworks’ iconic magazine ads, part of a campaign that featured entertainers such as Grace Jones and Iggy Pop.

“It was Yma Sumac — we had to do it!” says l.a.Eyeworks co-founder Gai Gherardi, who recalls a petite woman of monarchical bearing with a taste for bananas. “Her image, she knew what it looked like, and she lived up to it.”

In her late years, Sumac played regular cabaret engagements at the now-defunct Cinegrill and the Vine St. Bar & Grill jazz club, not far from her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (She’s the only Peruvian with that honor.) Her cabaret shows brought out a crowd that author Tom Lang, who worked at Vine St. in the ’80s, describes as “Sunset Boulevard on ayahuasca.”

“The pre-show atmosphere was anticipatory, a legend returns,” he says via e-mail from Bali, where he now lives. “Opening night, sold out. A group of tiny Peruvians, impeccably dressed, at one table. [Pianist and author] Leonard Feather in his regular booth (throne). Bill Murray and his entourage, up front.”

Sumac was an uneven performer in those years — with good nights, as well as terrible ones, her voice cracking, her temper foul. The show at Vine St. was one of the latter. “I wanted to take her off the stage and hug her and tell everyone else to leave her alone,” recalls Lang.

There are other L.A. stories, too. About her taste for El Pollo Loco and her shopping trips to Bullocks Wilshire. “She must have had 300 pairs of vintage shoes from throughout the ’50s,” recalls her friend and former assistant Damon Devine, who runs the tribute website yma-sumac.com.

The singer, who was sold to American audiences as a wonder from a strange land, was, in the end, just another grand dame living on the Westside (she later moved to West Hollywood), who might enjoy an afternoon of listening to Eurodance with her assistant.

Ultimately, it was in L.A., the city that made her who she was, that Yma Sumac would ultimately come to rest.

Not long ago, on a warm afternoon, I paid a visit to Sumac’s grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s in the same mausoleum as Iron Eyes Cody, a second-generation Italian American performer also known for a manufactured indigenous identity. (He frequently played a Native American in the movies and told the press he was Cree and Cherokee.) In another part of the building lies Constance Talmadge, the silent-screen star.

My father used to roll his eyes at Sumac’s claims of Inca nobility. But Los Angeles, a mestizo city and land of the faux historic, requires a ruler. Why not Sumac? In the photo displayed on her tomb, she is perfectly made up, wearing an indigenous textile and earrings as big as chandeliers. Just like an Inca queen.

FOR THE RECORD:

March 24, 2017, 4 p.m.: An earlier version of this story reported that Yma Sumac was the only Peruvian with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is one of two; radio personality Pepe Barreto is the other.

Reference

Gay History: Raymond Burr’s Secret Life

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Raymond Burr was in excruciating pain as he filmed the final “Perry Mason” episodes in 1993. Almost no one on the set knew he was dying of cancer. Biographer Michael Seth Starr is not surprised. According to Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr (published by Applause), secrecy was second nature to the actor. He became one of the world’s most familiar TV stars during the original run of “Perry Mason” (1956-1966) and went on to another popular if less remembered series, “Ironside” (1967-1975). And there he was, instantly recognizable and in the public eye, a gay man who kept his sexuality concealed.

Any admission of homosexuality would have poisoned his career at any time before the 1980s. Times changed but Burr kept his own counsel through the end. He was actually once married, briefly, and went on to invent no less than two dead wives and even a dead son to fill out the blank spaces in his life story. Along with false reports of his service during World War II, he repeated these additions to his autobiography so long and so often that they found their way into his obituaries. In the 1950s he was “romantically linked” with rising starlet Natalie Wood. They were genuinely fond of each other but sparks never flew. Burr met his life companion, onetime actor Robert Benevides, in 1957 on the “Perry Mason” set. They were together through Burr’s death.

The story of a deeply closeted Hollywood lifestyle isn’t entirely unique; the backdrop of Burr’s career adds to its interest. Typecast as a “heavy” when he drifted into Hollywood after World War II, his hulking presence and brooding scowl made him ideal for film noir and crime dramas generally. He played the furtive murderous husband across the courtyard in Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window (1954) and finally stood on the right side of the law as the district attorney dismantling Montgomery Clift’s testimony in A Place in the Sun (1951). Never considered an A-list movie actor, he became a star in the emerging medium of television. Playing the title role in “Perry Mason,” he became one of TV’s best paid and best known faces. Later, as the wheelchair-riding detective in “Ironside,” he might even have spurred the drive toward ramps and accessible facilities for the handicapped.

Starr notes that throughout his public life Burr was unfailingly generous to charities and gave much of his time (when he wasn’t keeping a grueling work schedule) to public service of one sort or another. That the author only assembled a relatively slender volume out of Burr’s life probably indicates that the actor carried many of his secrets to the grave.

11 things you might not know about Raymond Burr

Learn how the ‘Perry Mason’ star links to orchids, Godzilla, wine and the history of synthesizers.

Top image: AP Photo

Raymond Burr is synonymous with Perry Mason. Yet the Canadian-born actor was far more than television’s greatest defense lawyer. Of course, he played the titular wheelchair-bound police consultant on Ironside, too. Early in his film career, he was a natural in film noirs. Beyond the screen, Burr was a horticulturist, an oenophile and a seashell collector.

Burr’s fascinating biography was filled with fabrication and speculation, as he and his publicists obscured his private life. Here are things you might not know about Raymond Burr.

1. He starred in the radio program ‘Fort Laramie’ and read his lines from a wheelchair

Image: radiospirits

Gifted with a rich, resonating voice, Burr naturally found work in radio. In the 1956 program Fort Laramie, Burr starred as Cavalry Cpt. Lee Quince. In a foreshadowing of his Ironsiderole, he had to record much of his lines while confined to a wheelchair, after injuring his leg during the filming of Crime of Passion.

2. He was considered for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.

Though his roots were in noir, he could have been a Western star, and not just on the radio. Burr was up for the lead role of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, though he was deemed too overweight for the role, as was William Conrad, the man who played the Marshal on the radio. Producer-director Charles Marquis Warren was reported to have proclaimed, “When he stood up, his chair stood up with him.”

3. He was asked to lose weight for the role of Perry Mason.

Thankfully, the creators of Perry Mason found the right man for the role. Though the 40-year-old’s weight would again be an issue with producers. Burr beat out around 50 actors who auditioned for the gig, according to the book Raymond Burr: A Film, Radio and Television Biography. One catch: They made him take a crash diet, dropping his weight to 210 pounds.

4. He was in a Godzilla movie, but never interacted with the Japanese actors.

Image: Toho Company

The arrival of Godzilla in 1954 shook the film industry. In 1956, Jewell Enterprises took the monster movie and re-edited it for American audiences. Burr was cast as an American reporter, and footage of him was deftly inserted into the original to make it seem as if he were interacting with the other actors, who had completed their work two years prior. It was rumored that all his scenes were filmed in one day, but that seems to have been debunked, as his work likely was shot over the course of six days.

5. He portrayed Perry Mason in four different decades.

Just how popular was Perry Mason? After the series’ original run from 1957–66, Burr returned to the role for a string of 30 TV movies that aired from 1985–95. Burr headlined 27 of them, up until his death in 1993. The character was around in the 1970s, too, in the flop series The New Perry Mason, with Monte Markham playing the ace lawyer.

6. He was the original host of ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’

Image: NBC

Robert Stack, sporting his trench coat, is well remembered as the host of Unsolved Mysteries. He was not the first choice, however. On January 20, 1987, he hosted the NBC special that became the pilot for the series, though his services would prove to be too costly for the network to keep him on as host.

7. He made wine.

Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Raymond Burr Vineyards are located in Dry Creek County, California. The operation started in 1986 with the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Portuguese grapes.

8. His show ‘Ironside’ featured the first synthesizer-based TV theme.

Legendary producer Quincy Jones composed the killer theme to the 1967 crime series, about a consultant to the SFPD who had been paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet. If you’re unfamiliar, you might recognize the siren-like synthesizers from the Kill Bill movies. Jones later included a longer version of the tune on his 1971 album Smackwater Jack

9. He lived on a small island in Fiji.

Looking for privacy? You’ll find it on the tiny island of Naitaba, Fiji. Burr and his partner raised coconuts and cattle on the Pacific getaway.

10. He grew orchids and named a hybrid after his ‘Perry Mason’ costar

Another of Burr’s passions was flowers. He was a skilled grower of orchids, and with his partner, Robert Benevides, he hybridized approximately 1500 varieties. One hybrid was named for Barbara Hale, the actress who played Perry Mason’s loyal secretary, Della Street.

11. His partner was an actor, too.

Image: The Outer Limits / MGM Home Entertainment 

Benevides had experience on television, as well. He landed a handful of guest roles on shows such as The Loretta Young Showand West Point. His best-known performance is perhaps the Outer Limits episode “O.B.I.T.” He is the military man choked to death by an eerie creature as he monitors the Outer Band Individuated Teletracer.

Reference

Gay History: History Of The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, San Francisco, California, 1971-2004

Introduction

The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community. The club has been instrumental in growing new leaders who would rise to the highest levels of government in the nation, such as Dianne Feinstein, an early friend of the club. Alice has been critical to the fight for LGBT leaders to win office, such as Mark Leno, the first gay man elected to the California State Senate. These leaders have helped make San Francisco the epicenter of the LGBT political movement, advancing causes such as equal benefits, domestic partnership, transgender health care, and marriage equality. Alice continues to be a major player in local, state and national politics and remains an inspiring and effective organization to this day.

1970s-1980s: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence and Working Together as a Community

Alice B Toklas, 1949 Photo by Carl Van Vechten 

Beginnings of the Club

Back in 1971, it had only been a couple of years since the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and Stonewall Riots; homosexuality was still registered as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association; the modern Women’s Movement was just forming; President Richard Nixon was playing to his “silent majority”; and the issue of homosexuality was still thought of in the popular consciousness as “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name.” [1] [2] [3]

At this time, ‘gay people’ (including women, men and transgender people who frequently referred to the community in this period as a ‘gay movement’), all faced widespread cultural stigma and the high probability that they could be fired, expelled from families, and subject to violence for simply coming out.[4] To even speak of gayness was taboo. This environment constituted a ‘conspiracy of silence’ where the culture had established rules that any deviation from perceived normalcy related to gender and sex was considered pathological, immoral and criminal. At this time and in this hostile environment, for gay people to sign up publicly for a ‘gay democratic club’ and for politicians to be associated with the issue of homosexuality, was an act of bravery.

Jim Foster founded the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in December 1971.[5] [6] Foster was a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco since SIR was formed in 1964.[7] Prior to Alice there had been a few gay and lesbian advocacy groups such as SIR, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and others, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party.[8] [9] In 1971 Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and started a collaborative relationship that continues to this day. [10]

Why Alice B. Toklas?

Jim Foster organizing a phone bank in the early 1970’s. Photo from Alice Reports Newsletter of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.

Alice B. Toklas was the partner of the famous writer Gertrude Stein.[11] The original 20 members of the Club chose Alice B. Toklas because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people.[12]

Alice’s first political Campaign – 1972 McGovern vs. Nixon

Alice and Jim Foster played an important role in the Democratic Party’s selection of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate of 1972.[13] Alice endorsed McGovern, opened a ‘McGovern for President’ campaign office, and became a Bay Area political operation for McGovern in one of the Democratic strongholds in the state of California. At a critical point in the campaign, Foster helped implement a midnight signature gathering campaign in San Francisco gay bars in advance of the state primary deadline that helped McGovern be the first candidate to submit the required signatures that morning. This placed McGovern’s name first on the list of candidates on the California ballot.[14] McGovern won California with a 5-point edge over Hubert Humphrey, and ballot placement was considered one of the reasons for his win.[15]

1972 Democratic Convention – First Attempt to put Gay Rights Plank in Democratic Party Platform

After McGovern became the candidate, Foster also represented Alice at the Democratic Party National Convention of 1972, and brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the national platform committee.[16] This motion was extremely significant for the Democratic Party because it brought gay rights policy before the national party for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party was not yet ready to adopt gay rights in its platform. Kathy Wilch, a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, gave a divisive speech opposing the Gay Liberation Plank and halted approval of its inclusion in the Democratic Party Platform. This action angered many gay activists, prompting McGovern to send a letter clarifying: “Her views in no way reflect my views on the subject… I have long supported civil rights of all Americans and have in no way altered my commitment to these rights and I have no intention of doing so.”[17]

McGovern didn’t specifically say he supported gay rights, but in referencing the Wilch incident, he included gay rights in the broader context of civil rights, which was a victory. Gay rights had never been recognized as civil rights by a previous national party leader. Alice and Jim Foster’s platform effort thus initiated a national effort to incorporate gay rights within the Democratic Party platform, and this relationship between the gay community and the Democratic Party would continue and grow for decades.

1973 – A club of professional advocates working from the inside

The people who started Alice were experienced in politics, many of them working previously for the Society for Individual Rights. Jim Foster, Jack Hubbs, Steve Swanson and Tere Roderick, the original officers, got the club off to a quick start. The club began raising “Dollars for Democrats”, started a door-to-door canvassing program, and outreached to Democratic Party members, including Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, Supervisor Peter Tamaras, Senator Milton Marks, Senator George Moscone, and other elected officials.[18] [19] [20] At that time, Jim Foster built an especially close relationship with one of California’s most successful politicians: Dianne Feinstein. [21]

Cover of the Alice Reports Newsletter, November 1973

Early Political Successes

In 1969, Foster invited Supervisorial candidate Dianne Feinstein to meet with the Society for Individual Rights for her 1970 first race for Supervisor. After Feinstein was elected in 1970, Jim Foster requested that she introduce legislation to add the words “sex and sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. In 1973, Supervisor Feinstein introduced and passed the legislation at Alice’s urging. Following this action, Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, another close ally of Foster’s, appointed Alice member Jo Daly to a television oversight commission, a first for the City, and paving the way for lesbians and gay men to be appointed to public positions in San Francisco in later years.

Police issues

A major concern of the club in the early years was police harassment and substandard conditions in the San Francisco County jail. Gay men and lesbians dealt with police harassment issues with raids on bars and mistreatment by officers of people in the community. The jails were also a highly unsafe environment for gay detainees and the club made it a priority to change conditions in the jails. Jim Foster wrote Mayor Alioto a letter on behalf of the club criticizing him for not doing enough to address the problem of poor jail facilities.[22] In this time, Alice began a long relationship with Sheriff Michael Hennessey who became a friend of the club, often performing as a disc jockey at the clubs annual holiday party. Hennessey worked with the community to institute changes in holding conditions for gay inmates.[23]

Marijuana

Although the concept of “medical marijuana” was not a common political concept in this era, Alice supported efforts to decriminalize the overall possession and cultivation of marijuana.[24]

Cover of the Alice Reports Newsletter, November 1973

The “Big Four”

In November 1973, Alice worked to elect Dianne Feinstein, Jack Morrison, Jeff Masonek and Dorothy von Beroldingen to the Board of Supervisors. It was the first “Alice Slate” of candidates, and became a model for future efforts.

1974-1977 Post Watergate Era – Beginnings of Political Change

With Richard Nixon’s resignation and the wind blowing at the back of Democrats, it was an exciting time. Jo Daly and Jim Foster went to the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York, representing Alice. Despite the excitement about Democrats heading towards a win, Gay people were upset at the removal of the gay rights plank from the Democratic Platform to avoid ‘controversy.’ Gay protesters organized outside of the convention hall while Jo and Jim registered their disappointment to other delegates inside the convention. The ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ suppressing advocacy for gay rights on the national political level continued to be a pervasive stance of the Democratic Party during this era. [25] [26]

After the Democratic Convention, Carter made some efforts to reach out to lesbian and gay constituents through adult media. Playboy Magazine released an interview where Carter made it clear that he would sign a bill to extend equal rights to gay people, and his wife said at the time “I do not think that homosexuals should be harassed.” Carter’s choice of Playboy Magazine as the context for discussing gay rights cloaked gay rights in an adult context, and reinforced the idea that gayness is strictly about sex, but Carter’s outreach was an important start for a Democratic Party that was still finding its way on the issue of gay rights. It was the first time a Presidential candidate specifically committed to support gay rights legislation and this began to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the issue.[27] [28]

A young Willie Brown who would become Speaker of the California Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco

Huge Victory in California – Decriminalizing Homosexuality

One of the important victories for gay rights during the post Watergate era, was Willie Brown’s passage of “consensual sex legislation”, Assembly Bill 489. The 1975 bill removed California’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sodomy laws had long been used in states around the nation to criminalize homosexuality.[29]While the laws had been used in practice sporadically, the practical impact was to silence lesbians and gay men about their sexuality. If someone came out about being gay and having a partner, sodomy laws made it that this person was in effect admitting to being a criminal. Since the formation of Alice, the organization had been working closely with Willie Brown to remove California’s sodomy law. Passage of this legislation marked an important step in protecting the civil rights of gay people and an important legislative victory for Alice.

Alice in 1977

With the election of President Carter, the passage of Willie Brown’s consensual sex acts legislation, and the election of Alice’s slate of candidates, Alice became better known to the community. With all of this success, more people wanted to get involved in politics and the Alice B. Toklas Club. An election was held in 1977 for Club President, and membership grew significantly. 107 members showed up to vote for the elections and 26 members were elected as officers to the club. With these elections, Alice’s moderate, professional insider style became a sore point for many in the community who felt the club didn’t speak for them at that time.

January 1978 Edition of the “Gay Vote Newsletter” of the “Gay Democratic Club” (later known as the “Harvey Milk Democratic Club”) when Harvey Milk was sworn into office

1977-1978 – the Moscone / Milk Period

Social change brings about the most raw of human emotions and Harvey Milk’srise to power awakened the city, bringing about new possibilities, and unfortunately new hostilities that had not been experienced in the past.

After two unsuccessful bids for Supervisor in 1973 and 1975, Harvey Milk was elected Supervisor after a new system of district elections was established in 1977. Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, Harvey was the first openly gay man elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he won as a grassroots candidate without the support of Alice. Members of Alice believed Harvey was too left in his politics to win, so the Club backed another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. But Harvey did win the election and made history, leaving Alice to consider its decision. One important historic aspect of Milk’s win was the recognition that grassroots politics could be successful. Alice members believed that politics was an ‘insider’ game, and that outsiders couldn’t make it into positions of power. Milk’s win disproved this and set about a rethinking of San Francisco politics for years to come.

Because Alice did not support Harvey, his supporters formed the “Gay Democratic Club” which eventually became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club after Harvey was assassinated. The ‘Milk Club’ ultimately became the left-leaning voice in LGBT politics for the city, while Alice became positioned as the ‘moderate’ voice in LGBT politics. A third club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, formed in Los Angeles and established chapters all over the country, with a San Francisco chapter established for much of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This club also became quite influential in San Francisco politics for some time, especially under the leadership of Gary Parker. With Stonewall and Milk, San Francisco now had three clubs for gay activists to choose from, whereas Alice had been the only game in town just a few years before. [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]

In 1977, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were newly elected, the Alice B. Toklas Club met with Mayor Moscone. At this meeting he made commitments to Alice members about many issues:[35] [36]

1977 Community Issues:

Police Commission: The Mayor agreed to appoint a gay person to the city Police Commission. He also praised the Toklas club for its resolution in support of Police Chief Charles Gain, a liberal police chief he appointed.

  • Community Center: Moscone supported city funding for the development of a Gay Community Center, explaining that the Center at 330 Grove was in a building that was to be torn down for construction of the Performing Arts Center. He promised funds would be made available.
  • Mayor’s Open Door: The Mayor established himself as a gay political ally, encouraging activists to work with Supervisor Harvey Milk to advance pro-gay legislation for him to sign. He also announced he had out gay people on his staff that would work with the community on community goals.
  • Pride Funding: He said he favored city funding of the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade from the city hotel tax, a long-time goal of the community.
    Unity: Moscone urged Alice members to put aside their feelings that were evident from the campaign about Harvey Milk and to unite behind the winner for progress that could benefit the gay community. 

Political Action and Progress

1978 was a year of clashes between the newly active “religious right” and the “feminist left.” Five years after the Supreme Court made it’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the religious right began to organize all over the country, linking feminism and gay rights as shared targets in their cultural war. Jerry Falwell created his “Moral Majority”[37] and Anita Bryant waged a Save our Children campaign in Florida, while in California, State Senator Briggs jumped into the act by placing his Measure 6 on the ballot to ban gay people from teaching. The “No on 6 Campaign” backfired on Briggs and turned out to be a huge success story for LGBT Californians. Briggs lost his initiative after Alice and other LGBT organizations rallied together across the state. The campaign became a context for training young activists and supported networking among LGBT organizations. The conservative loss temporarily slowed the religious right’s crusade against gays. Progress was made on other fronts that year as well. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies in 1978, which was a crucial step in helping American culture to shift its attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. [38] [39] [40] [41]

Violence and Turmoil

While some progress was made in 1978, ultimately the year will be remembered most for its great tragedies. On November 27th, 1978, Supervisor Dan White climbed through an open window of City Hall and gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well as Mayor George Moscone. It was a day when everyone grieved and the assassination changed San Francisco forever.

Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone just days after the Mayor signed into law Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance that White opposed. The LGBT Community held a massive, peaceful candle light vigil in Harvey’s memory following news of the murders. Later that year, White was brought to trial outside of San Francisco, and a suburban jury found him guilty of “voluntary manslaughter” and gave White 7 years in prison, a sentence widely criticized as too lenient. The jury supported the verdict on the grounds that he had eaten too many Twinkies and his blood sugar was so high, that he snapped and went temporarily insane. This infamous “Twinkie” defense sparked outrage within the LGBT community, for justice had not been done. Following the verdict, the “White Night Riots” broke out in San Francisco, and over 160 people ended up in the hospital. The riots directed anger at the SFPD, as Dan White had been a former police officer, and a string of police related incidents occurring around the time of the verdict led to an environment of tension between the community and the police. (For more about the Police and LGBT community tensions at that time, Uncle Donald’s Castro Street history has some interesting information: http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html )

Amidst all of this turmoil, the leadership of Alice was torn about how to respond. Club President Steve Walters remarked:

“It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Dan White non-verdict, and I’ve read and heard an infinity of comments and reactions about the trial, and events that night at City Hall. I remain conflicted, torn between my dislike of violence and my rage at the injustice of the jury’s decision. Harsh critics have emerged, focusing on the violence of that night, but ignoring the events that led up to it: the murders of George and Harvey, increased physical attacks against gay men and women, the infamous Pegs Place affair, and the equally infamous police investigative whitewashing, removal from the Dan White jury of a man solely because he was gay, and finally, the ultimate immorality and insult of the jury’s decision.”[42]

As Walters mentioned, a string of issues had been creating tension between the community and the SFPD. The Pegs Place incident involved officers entering a lesbian establishment and assaulting women patrons with little action taken afterwards by the SFPD to respond to the incident. Walters and other members of the community charged that the SFPD had ‘whitewashed’ the facts of the Dan White case to protect one of their former officers. With anger mounting over all of these police issues, Alice became even more intensely focused on the issue of police misconduct, writing letters to the Mayor and requesting action to address the situation. [43] [44] [45]

Jo Daly, an early President of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club, who was Mayor Feinstein’s appointment to the San Francisco Television Oversight Task Force, and later the San Francisco Police Commission, the first openly gay or lesbian appointment to a City commission in San Francisco.

The Early 80’s – Growing Pains, Separatism, and Different Agendas.

Lesbians and gay men shared some common political goals in the early 80’s (such as supporting Senator Art Agnos’s Assembly Bill 1, banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians), but issues such as economic justice for women and gay men’s sexual revolution came to be viewed at times as conflicting sets of priorities. When members of the community were appointed to positions of power, people began to raise questions such as “Can gay men in power truly speak for lesbians?” or “Are lesbians truly sensitive to the issues of importance to gay men?”

Former Alice Co-Chair Jo Daly was the first member of the lesbian and gay community to be appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, but Alice member Bruce Petit wrote a letter to the club raising concerns about her appointment that echoed many of the divisions of the time. [1] He said:

“Feinstein fulfilled her major campaign pledge to the Gay community by appointing one of their own to the five-member body that directs the police department. But some activist elements faulted Daly as short on progressive credentials, too close of an ally to the Mayor, and unable to represent Gay men—who are said to have more problems with the police than lesbians”

Bruce Petit continued his letter, quoting lesbian Police Commissioner Jo Daly as saying:

“Women make 53 cents for every dollar men make. Two white gay men putting their incomes together are better off than anybody else in society. For Gay activist males to make their major concentration maintaining glory holes—when La Casa, the only home in the county where battered women and children can go, is going out of business because there is no money—that leaves us angry!” [2]

The tension between lesbians and gay men in this period was heated, and some of the accusations on both sides now seem unfair. The conflicts were perhaps especially acrimonious in Alice because male leadership had up to that point dominated the club. But despite the divisions that erupted at this time, there were also important unique perspectives that were affirmed out of that discourse. The community began to affirm that women have a truly unique perspective from men, and people of both genders have unique contributions to make. “Gay” was no longer used as an umbrella term for the community – “gay” became a word largely designated for men, and “lesbian” became an important, distinctive term of choice for women. [3]

Barbara Boxer and Carole Migden early in their careers. Photo from Alice Reports Newsletter

Women in Leadership Positions

One of the most significant areas of progress for the community in the early 80’s was the rise of women to leadership positions, beginning the careers of some women who would go on to the highest offices in the nation. Barbara Boxer was elected to congress with outspoken support for LGBT issues as a central part of her campaign message.[4]

Carole Migden became the President of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and ran for Community College Board, laying the groundwork for her later Board of Supervisors, Assembly and State Senate races.

Because of the male dominance of gay democratic clubs in the early years, lesbians worked outside of the Democratic Club system to become politically active in their own right. After Harvey Milk was assassinated and Harry Britt was appointed as his replacement on the Board of Supervisors, there was a feeling among many women that a woman should have been appointed to support gender balanced leadership. Out of the frustration of many women at being held out of political office, a group of politically active women formed the Lesbian Agenda for Action. Women like Roma Guy, Pat Norman, Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Carole Migden began to work outside the democratic club establishment in this organization as a way to assert power outside of a system that was heavily dominated by men. Out of this activism, Carole Migden eventually became the chair of the Democratic Party bringing gay staff with her. Roger Sanders, her staffer, computerized the Democratic Party system and helped her modernize the Democratic Party’s voter turnout process. [5] [6] [7]

District Elections:

After the Milk/Moscone assassinations, San Francisco moved back to citywide elections for supervisorial races. It was believed by some that district elections were a large part of the divisiveness that led to Milk’s assassination. Others felt that district elections were crucial to representing San Francisco’s diversity. Alice membership overwhelmingly supported the concept of district elections in 1980, with 200 members voting to support district elections and only two members dissenting.

1980 Democratic National Platform:

Alice worked very closely with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in 1980 to successfully lobby Jimmy Carter (with the help of Mayor Feinstein) to include a gay plank in the Democratic Platform. [8][9] The convention that year had a record 71 openly lesbian and gay delegates, with 17 coming from California. Alice Delegates included Harry Britt, Gwenn Craig, Jim Foster, Bill Kraus and Anne Kronenberg (one of Harvey Milk’s Aides). [10][11] Mike Thistle went on behalf of the Milk Club and Alice member Larry Eppinette attended as a Carter delegate. Alice also sent many non-gay delegates including Kevin Shelley, among others.[12]

Fighting Police Entrapment:

Law enforcement issues continued to be a major issue of concern for Alice, as Senator John Foran authored SB 1216 to legalize police entrapment and require that a defendant prove he/she is of ‘good character’, not predisposed to commit a crime, if loitering.[13][14]

Advertisement in the Alice Reports newsletter for Tom Ammiano in his first campaign for School Board. Ammiano would later become a San Francisco Supervisor and Assemblyman.

Gay Men campaigning for office:

John Newmeyer became California’s first openly gay man to run for congress in the 2nd District, and Alice endorsed his unsuccessful, but historic first bid.[15] TomAmmiano ran for School Board for the first time in 1980, starting a long career in San Francisco politics, and Alice endorsed Tom in his first race. [16] Harry Britt was also appointed by Dianne Feinstein to replace Harvey Milk in office. This appointment was a source of contention for some in the community as many women felt that Ann Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s legislative aide, should have been appointed to office to support gender balance. Britt continued to serve on the Board in the 1980’s focusing particularly on tenant’s rights issues.

Alice comes out officially as a “Gay Democratic Club” under Club President Connie O’Conner

During the early eighties Connie O’Conner was elected President of Alice and ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner all won as Alice’s candidates in 1980. Connie also successfully made a motion to change the name of the club to the “Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club.” This was very controversial at the time and many longtime Alice members such as Jim Foster and Robert Barnes argued that straight club members might feel alienated if the club was explicitly identified as a “gay democratic club”. Alice voted to change its name and move towards greater openness, while straight San Francisco allies continue to this day to sign up to be a part of Alice.

Alice wins seats on the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee

In 1980 Under the leadership of club President Connie O’Conner, Alice ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee and Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner won seats on the committee. Previously only Milk club members like Ron Huberman and Gwen Craig represented the LGBT community on this committee.

Mayor Feinstein Recall Fight

In 1983, a heated battle ensued over attempts to recall Mayor Feinstein, with recall supporters citing her veto of domestic partners legislation and her support of landlords over tenants. Anti-recall supporters cited Feinstein’s longtime support for gay legislation and her willingness to put funds towards helping people with KS and AIDS at the very beginning of the epidemic. Alice voted 137 to 73 to oppose the recall effort and became very active in fighting the recall. Afterward, Feinstein was very grateful to Alice and instituted regular meetings with the club to keep in communication with the community about issues.[17][18][19][20]

HIV and AIDS – The Total Focus of the Mid 1980’s and Early 90’s

The fight over the Feinstein recall was one of the last divisive fights between left and moderate LGBT democrats for a while, as the energy and focus had to go 100% to saving lives. San Francisco was hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic and some of our brightest people in the community were lost. With them went much knowledge and skill that could be shared and passed down in the community. Many died early in the epidemic, such as the Founder of Alice, Jim Foster and former Alice President Robert Cramer who passed away just a few years before protease inhibitors were introduced.[21] Many continued to die after 1994, and this had enormous impact on the community. Tony Leone, a longtime member of Alice, and a dedicated activist for gay rights, passed away in 1999. Dick Pabich, the legislative aide to Harvey Milk who went on to become a campaign consultant to Carole Migden passed away in 2000.[22] Many friends in politics of these brilliant, dedicated people wondered how they could continue without their guidance and years of experience. A whole generation of knowledge was lost.

Alice jumped into the fight against AIDS early, as friends were dying, and the Federal Government was being completely unresponsive. Bay Area representatives Phil Burton and Barbara Boxer worked tirelessly to get federal support, while President Reagan still refused to even mention the word AIDS. It was a battle to get government to pay attention about something that was killing our community. As a result of this, a new slogan became popular among activists after the formation of ACT UP in 1987: “Silence Equals Death”. Activism against AIDS would increasingly be shaped as a direct battle between those who perpetuated the Conspiracy of Silence, and those who recognized that silence could kill them. [23][24][25][26][27]

Sal Rosselli (center, dark hair mustache), who would later become the President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers

The 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco

In 1984 the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco three years after the initial discovery of HIV/AIDS and long before effective treatments were available. Alice representatives Sal Rosselli and Connie O’Conner were both elected as openly gay Gary Hart delegates to the Convention, and they watched Jesse Jackson speak to the convention floor after his first historic run for President. (Four years later Jackson would make his Rainbow Coalition Speech at the 1988 Convention where he famously included “gay Americans” as part of the Rainbow Coalition). Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis both lost their elections, but progress continued for the gay and lesbian community as the national Democratic Party began to publicly include the community as part of their public agenda.[28][29][30]

Despite progress on some fronts, the fight against AIDS continued to be enormous and at sometimes overwhelming for the members of Alice. Club President Sal Rosselli wrote in the January 1985 edition of Alice Reports:[31][32]

“While talking to friends over the Holidays, I often heard this statement characterizing 1984: Too intense, too much work; here’s to a relaxing 1985. Thanks to our active membership of almost 600, Alice has accomplished a great deal during the last year… Of course there is still so much to be done; but let us be proud and grateful for all we have accomplished. The year ahead looks like it may be less hectic and may afford us… more time to organize from within and focus on our primary agenda. That primary focus must be developing national, statewide and local plans to combat AIDS.”

By 1985, as can be seen in this statement, Alice was challenged by the fight against AIDS. After a depressing election loss against Ronald Reagan, and continuing struggles to save friends with few treatments available, these were difficult times. Alice’s primary focus would continue to be fighting AIDS until the partial success of halting the virus came with protease inhibitors in the mid ‘90’s, which allowed for a broadening of the political agenda.

A young Robert Barnes getting his start in politics. He would later become one of the most influential political consultants in San Francisco.

The Larouche Initiative:

Alice and AIDS activists did not get a reprieve after 1985 – things got worse before they got better. In 1986, Lyndon Larouche capitalized on AIDS-phobia and placed his infamous Proposition 64 on the ballot to quarantine people with AIDS, using the clearly faulty logic that AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes. Even in the early stages of the virus, it was obvious that mosquitoes could not spread the disease; otherwise it would not have disproportionately impacted specific groups. Fortunately, California voters struck down the initiative, once again sending a message to the radical right that measures like the Briggs and Larouche Initiatives would not be supported in California. Alice worked very hard to defeat the Larouche Initiative, contributing to the opposition’s success.[33]

Alice Pickets KQED over PBS Frontline Special on AIDS

In 1986 Alice became very involved in the fight against media defamation of people with AIDS under the leadership of Club President Roberto Esteves. San Francisco’s local television station KQED ran a PBS Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges who they presented as a ‘typhoid mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and refused to stop having sex, regardless of his HIV status. The reporters didn’t mention that Bridges continued to have sex because he was in financial dire straights and he was a prostitute. The reporters also failed to mention that they paid Bridges to set up their exploitative interview. Alice joined with the Milk Club to protest the KQED Bay Area showing of this story to fight the media stereotype of presenting people with AIDS as predators.[34] After this protest, KQED responded by appointing its first openly gay member to their community advisory board. This effort was one of the early efforts to fight media defamation of gays happening right after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985.[35]

1986 Alice’s endorsement critical in Jackie Speier winning Assembly Race 

One of the Bay Area’s most prominent leaders, Jackie Speier, became first known to many as an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan who was assassinated in the Jonestown massacre. Speier was in Guyana during the Jonestown Massacre and while attempting to shield herself from rifle and shotgun fire behind small airplane wheel, Speier was shot five times and waited 22 hours before help arrived. Speier survived and returned home from the incident going on to serve as a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. In 1986 she ran for an open seat on the California State Assembly against Mike Nevin. Nevin had secured the endorsement of the Burton/Brown San Francisco political establishment, as well as the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, but Alice was Speier’s first club endorsement, and fighting against tough odds, she wound up winning. Alice’s support proved critical as Speier won the race by only a few hundred votes. Speier went on to serve as a member of Congress representing nearly half of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and the Peninsula. Alice member Ron Braithwaite organized support for Speier in her first race for Assembly and for many years Speier marched in the LGBT Pride Parade with Alice and always considered Alice to be ‘her club’. [36][37]

1987 Art Agnos wins race for Mayor

Alice shocked many in 1987 with its decision to make no endorsement in the race for Mayor between liberal Assemblyman Art Agnos and centrist Supervisor John Molinari. Molinari had been the favorite of Alice for some time and it was assumed by many that Alice would endorse him, but Agnos had many supporters who were able to block an endorsement of Molinari on a 275 to 206 vote.[38]

1990s-2000s: An Organized Constituency Finds its Power

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Alice and the LGBT Community of San Francisco made enormous progress in challenging the conspiracy of silence that had prevailed in earlier decades. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the LGBT Community started winning larger numbers of local electoral victories in San Francisco. It was no longer enough for the movement to rely upon straight allies (although Alice’s straight allies would continue to be crucial and would rise to prominence at all levels of government); but LGBT people would finally begin to win office in San Francisco in significant numbers, and would be appointed to various City commissions and departments holding offices in policy areas as diverse as Law Enforcement, Human Rights, Transportation, Education and Health. With this expansion of ‘out’ LGBT local representation and influence, Alice supported candidates began passing legislation that would implement changes for LGBT civil rights, not only in San Francisco, but far beyond the City limits.The 1990 “Lavender Sweep”

While San Francisco was confronting AIDS, there was an urgent sense that LGBT people needed to be in positions of power. It was not enough anymore to have friends of our community supporting us. We needed a place at the table. 1990 saw the culmination of two decades of political work by Alice and the Milk Club to bring our community to the table. All the hard work had finally come to success when the two clubs worked together in the historic 1990 Lavender Sweep (the first of two sweeps, the second being in 1994).

The 1990 sweep successfully pushed several candidates over the top to become elected leaders. Lesbian Donna Hitchens won citywide as Superior Court Judge. Lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg won races to join the Board of Supervisors, and Tom Ammiano became the first gay man elected to the San Francisco School Board. Years of work had paid off for all the candidates who had been trying to get into office, and work by Alice was crucial to these victories.[1][2]

Jim Rivaldo, Harvey Milk’s campaign consultant and worked as a political and graphics design consultant for both the Alice and Milk Clubs in the following decades

Alice Involvement in the Lavender Sweeps and broader community work:

Campaigns are not won by leaders simply rising to power. It takes incredible work and commitment of people in the community to make a difference. It takes fundraising. It takes strategy. It takes coalition building. It takes development of successful messages and professional campaign materials. It takes enlisting support, one endorsement at a time. And it takes courage to stand by your vision even in the face of opposition. That’s exactly what Alice and the community did to create the 1990 and 1994 landmark elections. There are countless heroes in these efforts that deserve to be recognized, and a few of these are Dick Pabich, Jim Hormel and Mark Leno who raised money for numerous community efforts throughout these years. Jim Hormel not only supported LGBT candidates, but also raised enormous sums for the new Public Library’s Hormel Center for LGBT research. Mark Leno became a lead fundraiser and strategist for building the new LGBT Community Center] and one of Carole Migden’s top fundraisers. Dick Pabich not only helped Carole Migden raise funds to get into office, but he became a chief fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, paving the way for one of our nation’s most outspoken national advocates for LGBT rights in the United States Senate. Robert Barnes and campaign consultant Jim Rivaldo were instrumental in establishing a professional campaign operation for LGBT advocacy. Barnes became a key advisor to LGBT leaders and Rivaldo became a lead graphics designer for slate cards, billboards, and countless materials done pro-bono for LGBT causes during this time. Carole Cullum at the law firm of Cullum and Sena also provided crucial legal advice to LGBT campaigns while long time LGBT activists Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Denny Edelman gave non-stop volunteer work on behalf of community causes throughout these years as well. There were so many others, but this gives a small sense of the broad coalition of work that was being done to lay the foundation for LGBT political power and LGBT social services in San Francisco.[3][4][5]

Carole Cullum and Kathy Brehm. Carole, as Alice co-chair, helped the SF Women’s Building in a political fight to remove a bar from its premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility.

National Repercussions of the 1990 Lavender Sweep

The Lavender sweep had national repercussions as it became a precursor to LGBT campaign organizing prior to the 1992 presidential election, and established the San Francisco lesbian and gay community as a base of power that could help win local, state and national elections in the future.

1992 “The Year of the Woman”

In 1992 California made history by sending Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate and the LGBT community played a key role in that success. Political pundits billed 1992 as “The Year of the Woman because women candidates made successful efforts to break into the male dominated US Senate, which had only 2 female members in office at that time. Feinstein’s campaign used the slogan ‘2% is good for milk but not for equality’ in the US Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election for US Senator in 1992 against radio commentator Bruce Herschensohn by 5% of the vote with the crucial assistance of the LGBT community. Her openly gay political consultant and fundraiser Dick Pabich was a key strategist for the Boxer campaign. Pabich adopted a strategy for Boxer to explicitly build a California majority of women, gay men and minority constituencies. Alice helped boost turnout in San Francisco to provide the margin of difference in that campaign.[6]

Button from Clinton’s 1992 Election campaign “Clinton: The Cure for the Blues”

Bill Clinton becomes President

That year Alice became an important player in Democratic Presidential politics as well. Robert Barnes, chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club had this to say about the approaching presidential election in the May 1992 edition of Alice Reports:

“Alice demonstrated its Democratic Party savvy in putting together a winning slate of delegates for the Clinton Presidential Caucus. Alice is the first major Democratic Club, and thus far the only Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, to endorse Bill Clinton for President… With Alice’s support, lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg was the caucus’ top female vote getter.”

As an early endorser of Bill Clinton, Alice established itself as a “Friend of Bill’s” before other Democratic Clubs had gotten in the act, and Alice helped propel Roberta Achtenberg into the limelight of the Democratic Convention, supporting her eventual selection as Housing Undersecretary.

At the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton was outspoken in his support of the LGBT Community, breaking the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that had long dominated national discussions of gay issues, even among Democratic politics. At the 1992 Democratic Convention, Clinton specifically talked about “gay people”, [43 minutes into speech], whereas in the past, democratic presidential contenders such as George McGovern and Jimmy Carter had said they supported “Civil Rights” when referring to LGBT people, but not actually identifying directly with our community at the Democratic Conventions. Clinton went on to appoint Roberta Achtenberg as Undersecretary of Housing, prompting archconservative Jesse Helms to famously refer to her as “that damn lesbian!” Clinton also appointed Democratic fundraiser and gay philanthropist Jim Hormel to be a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.[7][8][9]

John Laird

Alice supports Mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz in his 1993 run for Assembly:

In September, 1993, many Alice members volunteered in the campaign to elect openly gay mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz to the State Assembly, as was reported by co-chair Mathew Rothschild in the Sept. 1993 edition of Alice Reports. Nearly a decade later, John joined Mark Leno as the first two gay men to be elected to the Assembly in 2002.[10]

Susan Leal Replaces Roberta Achtenberg on the Board of Supervisors.

Susan Leal was appointed June 7th, 1993 by Mayor Frank Jordan to serve on the Board of Supervisors succeeding Roberta Achtenberg. Susan joined Alice in endorsing Willie Brown in 1995 and began a strong relationship with the club, building towards her run for mayor, which Alice endorsed, in 2003. As a Latina lesbian, she continued the tradition of broadening San Francisco’s LGBT leadership diversity. [11][12]

The 1994 “Lavender Sweep”

In 1994 San Francisco had a second “Lavender Sweep” with openly gay candidates Susan Leal, Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano being elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Katz and Lawrence Wong winning election to the Community College Board. Alice was instrumental in the fight, working in coalition with the Milk Club. Susan Leal went on to Chair the powerful Finance Committee on the Board of Supervisors, ensuring that much needed funds would be directed towards HIV and AIDS services. With the 1994 Lavender Sweep, Alice and the LGBT Community demonstrated a firmly established base of power in San Francisco. The community that previously needed district elections to win a single elected office was now a major power broker sweeping several candidates into numerous offices for a second time. San Francisco’s political establishment would from this point forward be walking in close step with the LGBT community and its political goals.[13][14]

Willie Brown Elected Mayor:

With newly imposed term limits, longtime community ally Assemblyman Willie Brown was forced out of office and ran for Mayor in 1995. A major power broker for the state, it was believed that he could beat conservative Mayor Frank Jordan and bring unity to a deeply divided city. Prior to his campaign, Willie Brown met with Carole Migden, Alice Chair Mathew Rothschild, Milk Club Chair Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and other LGBT community members to plan his run for Mayor. In the past, the lesbian and gay community had been on the ‘outside’ in brokering power for the city, but with the Lavender Sweep, lesbian and gay leaders were now recognized as a strong political force in San Francisco and Speaker Brown formed a direct alliance with the community in his race for Mayor. Brown won the election and went on to appoint more LGBT people to lead city departments and commissions than ever before in the city’s history. He also signed the Equal Benefits Ordinance to require businesses that contract with the city to provide equal benefits to domestic partners that are offered to married couples.[15][16][17][18]

Carole Migden replaces Willie Brown in the Assembly:

Willie Brown, the legendary “Ayatollah of the Assembly” who represented San Francisco and the Democratic Party incredibly well for decades, including early support for LGBT rights through his consensual sex laws, stepped down due to newly imposed term limits and Carole Migden replaced him. Alice’s longstanding relationship with Willie Brown and Carole Migden helped position Migden to become the second LGBT person ever sent to the California State Legislature. Carole won election to the seat later in 1998.

Labor Organizing – Training for Alice Members

Jack Gribbon was a labor organizer who trained Alice members how to organize during the Willie Brown Campaign for Mayor. A waiter who organized thousands of hospitality workers in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2 (H.E.R.E), Jack ran Willie Brown’s 1995 field campaign and enlisted Alice members to spend months before the Mayoral election tirelessly calling voter lists, identifying Brown supporters and walking precincts to turn voters out on Election Day. Jack originally got involved with Alice during the Domestic Partnership campaigns of the 1980’s, and his training became a model that worked. Alice member Fran Kipnis, for instance, turned out 99% of her own precinct in 1992, the same year that Barbara Boxer won her U.S. Senate race by 5%. Alice would sign up precinct captains, identify voters and track down if they were voting by mail or voting on Election Day, and would work relentlessly on Election Day until the polls closed, taking nothing for granted until the fight was over. Gribbon’s approach continues to be the model the club uses to this day, and LGBT areas of San Francisco such as the Castro District are known to be some of the highest turnout districts in the city every Election Day.

Leslie Katz Elected to the Board of Supervisors:

In 1996 Leslie Katz was elected to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed by Mayor Brown earlier that year. Alice worked tirelessly on Supervisor Katz’s campaign, as Leslie had been a longstanding member of the club who had already shown her strong leadership capabilities over many years. One of her staff, Geoff Kors, would go on to become the Executive Director for Equality California.[1][2]

Tom Radulovich elected to BART Board:

Tom Radulovich was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors in November 1996 representing the 9th District in San Francisco.[3] An Alice supported candidate over the years and gay official, Tom later made a run for the Board of Supervisors. He has served on the BART Board for a decade while working tirelessly on housing and transit issues, taking a strong leadership role in groups like the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) and the Housing Action Coalition (HAC).

The Equal Benefits Ordinance: San Francisco Flexes its Muscles.

In 1996, San Francisco enacted an ordinance that had a broad impact on the entire nation, and Alice supported leaders were instrumental to passing this legislation. Supervisor Leslie Katz, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Supervisor Susan Leal, and Mayor Willie Brown together championed San Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance to require that businesses that contract with the City of San Francisco must provide equal benefits to domestic partners that they give to married partners. This law swept the nation in its impact, paving the way for hundreds of businesses to adopt domestic partnership benefits. Some businesses like United Airlines initially fought the ordinance but San Francisco leaders stood firm in demanding equality and the City prevailed. The ordinance became a model for similar laws passed throughout the nation, and the model for Christine Kehoe’s California Assembly Bill 17, signed by Governor Davis, to require businesses which contract with the state of California to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. This is one clear example where a San Francisco ordinance passed by Alice supported legislators managed to change not only the City of San Francisco, but also California and the nation.[4][5][6][7][8]

San Francisco Treasurer Susan Leal

Susan Leal Becomes San Francisco City Treasurer:

In 1998 Susan Leal was appointed to become the City Treasurer, where she managed the City’s $3 billion portfolio. Her investment policies and decisions produced a greater return during her period of service than any major county in the state. In 2001 Susan was elected Treasurer for another term with 87% of the vote, due to her reputation as a strong, effective manager of the city’s finances. Alice endorsed Susan’s candidacy and campaigned hard for her victory.

Domestic Partnership: New laws enacted for California.

Alice strongly supported Carole Migden as she went to the Assembly and introduced AB 26, which created a registry for Domestic Partnership and gave Domestic Partners many of the same rights (such as hospital visitation rights) that married couples enjoy. Later, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would introduce AB 205, an extensive set of rights and responsibilities for domestic partners that almost mirrored marriage, building on Carole’s earlier work.[9][10]

Al Gore and Mark Leno

Mark Leno Elected to the Board of Supervisors

In 1998 candidate Mark Leno won election to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed earlier that year. Leno had spent years prior to his time on the Board of Supervisors working as a lead organizer and fundraiser for the LGBT Center. He was a key player in getting the Center built. Leno was also a longstanding member of Alice before his rise to office. As a Supervisor, Leno led the effort to create a transitional housing facility designed specifically to address the needs of LGBT homeless youth as well as passing the City’s first Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to mandate that developers construct a percentage of affordable housing as they develop in a city with skyrocketing housing costs.[11]

Proposition 22 – The Knight Initiative:

In 2000, California voters were subjected to a divisive ballot measure that was designed to turn back the clock on LGBT rights – Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative. The measure was written to clarify that out-of-state marriages could not impact California marriage law regarding same sex couples. Voters passed the measure, despite the vigorous efforts of Alice and our LGBT leaders. Mark Leno (who would later introduce AB 849, the Marriage Equality Bill) worked especially hard to stop the initiative, traveling as a statewide campaign spokesman against the measure. Alice worked tirelessly to stop the Knight Initiative, and continues to be part of marriage equality organizing.[12]

Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes deserves special mention because of his work on behalf of Alice, his commitment to LGBT rights, his work at the California Democratic Party, and his often-controversial approach to politics that dominated Alice for much of the late ‘90’s. He was an Alice Co-Chair who became a close advisor to many of San Francisco’s most successful politicians. Carole Migden, Mark Leno, Willie Brown, Dennis Herrera, Leslie Katz, Susan Leal, Tom Radulovich, Natalie Berg, Mabel Teng, Donna Hitchens, Kevin McCarthy, School Board members Dan Kelly, Juanita Owens, Lawrence Wong, and many other San Francisco officials worked closely with Robert Barnes at various points in their careers. [13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

He grew up in San Francisco in a working class family closely connected to politics. His father was a machinist and labor activist and in 1977 ran for District Supervisor against Dan White. Robert got into politics himself running for the BART Board and the Board of Education, but after losing these races, (one of them being to Tom Ammiano in his race for the Board of Education) Robert got involved in politics behind the scenes. He was particularly involved in Democratic Party activities and was the Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Gay Caucus for many years.

San Francisco has some of the most colorful, bombastic, and sometimes brilliant people in politics. Robert was one of them. He had an incredible sense of humor and got away with controversial jokes that most professionals would never dream of trying. He could say things that were unthinkable, throwing insiders out of their comfort zone, then warming them back up with charm, and closing the deal with masterful delivery. He was an extremely funny person in a somewhat bland professional scene. Robert Barnes, Chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club and Prominent Democratic Party Activist, died on August 9th, 2002 of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, just months before his candidate, Mark Leno, became the first gay man elected to the California State Assembly.

November 1998 Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club slate card produced by political consultant Robert Barnes, with graphics designed by Jim Rivaldo

Robert’s work in the Alice B. Toklas Club:

For several years the Alice B. Toklas Club had been struggling during the AIDS epidemic, as members became focused on saving lives and had little time or energy to spare on Democratic politics. People were exhausted. During this vacuum of leadership at Alice, Robert Barnes almost single-handedly resurrected the club to continue political work.[21][22]

While Robert took on leadership at Alice, he simultaneously developed a business in political consulting specializing in slate mail. The period where Robert took the lead at Alice was controversial because many of the political goals of the club seemed to be designed by Robert with his business clients in mind. Many people in the community felt that Robert was serving his own goals at the expense of the community. This fueled the Alice/Milk longstanding rivalry – the belief that Alice was becoming a front for Robert’s political work. But Robert worked on a variety of projects that were widely supported as well, such as the School Bond campaign and the 1994 Lavender Sweep. He worked relentlessly on the Octavia Boulevard campaign and worked very closely with Alice to promote the San Francisco Women’s Building, supporting their right to remove a bar from the premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility. Robert also ran the campaigns of many important LGBT candidates and he worked tirelessly as the State Party Chair of the LGBT Caucus. His positioning Alice early with the Clinton campaign also proved to be invaluable for the community.[23][24][25]

Perhaps Robert’s most important contribution was to bring numerous young people into politics, showing them how to be professional advocates for the LGBT community. He invited people who had no experience with politics to get involved, teaching them how to manage campaigns, how to work with elected officials, how to put together slate cards, how to design ballot arguments, how to raise money, how to write press releases, how to work with the state party, how to craft a winning message, and how to become successful in advancing the LGBT cause. He taught many people how to be professional leaders.

Paul Hogan, Alice Co-Chair after the Leno/Hansen Race was one of many who worked tirelessly to improve relations between Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk Democratic Clubs

Alice / Milk Rivalries

The Alice and Milk Democratic clubs have throughout their existence been somewhat at odds with each other by virtue of the fact that the Milk Club formed out of a difference in political orientation and approach from Alice. Sometimes this rivalry has overshadowed any ability of the clubs to work together, and sometimes the two clubs have worked as if there were no rivalry at all. It’s fair to say that having two Democratic Clubs offers checks and balances on whether either club is acting genuinely in the interest of the community. Open dialogue and critique is definitely positive.

The history of tensions between the clubs could be seen from the beginning but grew to a high point in 1995 during the Willie Brown and Roberta Achtenberg campaign for Mayor. Alice endorsed Willie Brown citing his years of leadership and commitment to the community, as well as the desire to unseat Mayor Jordan with a strong, viable candidate at a time when no one could be certain that Mayor Jordan could be beaten. Roberta Achtenberg entered the race later and many members of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club supported her, wanting to see the first lesbian Mayor of San Francisco. Brown beat Jordan and Alice was absolutely critical to his victory.

The Achtenberg/Brown election was only one episode of a long period of division between the clubs. An event that further crystallized the tension was the Mayoral Election of 1999 when Tom Ammiano put himself forward as a write-in candidate late in the election cycle against Mayor Willie Brown. Ammiano waged a spirited campaign with his write-in candidacy, garnering national attention and enthusiasm, but the race exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Alice and Milk Clubs. Alice members were conflicted about the election because the club promotes LGBT empowerment, but Alice members had a long-standing relationship with Mayor Brown and were proud of his important work for the LGBT community, such as the landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance. Alice had already made its commitment to Brown before Ammiano got into the race with his write-in candidacy, so the club would have had to back out of its endorsement of a longstanding ally. Alice’s decision to stick with endorsing Mayor Brown hastened a growing divide between the two clubs.[1]

The next major event that accelerated the rise in tension between the clubs was the 2000 supervisorial race between Mark Leno and Eileen Hansen. District elections had been reinstated that year and the Milk Club endorsed lesbian candidate Eileen Hansen for District 8, while Alice endorsed gay incumbent supervisor Mark Leno. Leno ultimately won the race because of his strong progressive credentials and history of accomplishment on the Board.

A crescendo in the long rift between the clubs came when Supervisor Leno ran for State Assembly in 2002 with the strong endorsement of Alice, while the Milk Club endorsed Harry Britt (who had been retired from elective office for over a decade). Mark Leno went on to pass progressive legislation to protect transgender people in employment and housing (AB 196) and passed the historic marriage equality bill (AB 849).[2][3][4]

Healing the Rift

After the 2000 Leno/Hansen race, and after the 2002 Assembly race, leaders from Alice and Milk made a concerted effort to improve relations between the two clubs. Alice Co-Chair Rich Kowalewski, one of many who has been credited with working tirelessly to improve the Alice/Milk relationship, had this to say about the dynamics between the two clubs:

“Through these years, Alice has developed a good working relationship with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. This cooperation has been possible because of ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the two clubs. I know I speak for Paul Hogan, Theresa Sparks, and Laura Spanjian when I say “thank you” Jerry Threat, Debra Walker, Robert Haaland, and Michael Goldstein for your leadership in the bridge building. We have learned to focus on the 90% on which we agree rather than the 10% on which we disagree.”

Rich, Paul, Theresa, Laura, Jerry, Debra, Robert, Michael, and Scott Wiener all did an excellent job of changing course in the direction of relationships between our two clubs. The community continues to benefit from Milk and Alice working together.

Rich Kowalewski, Alice Co-Chair after the Leno/Britt Assembly race was one of many club members who worked hard to establish better relations between the Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk Democratic Clubs

Transgender Rights

Throughout Alice’s history, most of the focus on issues and candidates had been on gay and lesbian rights. As the new millennium was ushered in, Alice supported officeholders took a lead in addressing transgender rights, making it a top priority with huge success. Shortly after his election in 2000, Supervisor Leno created the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, which advanced changes in city policy related to transgender people.[5] Following task force identified goals, Mayor Willie Brown named task force member Theresa Sparks to become the first Transgender Human Rights Commissioner. Leno authored the Employer Notification Law signed by Mayor Brown, requiring employers to post anti-discrimination notifications in places of business that specify that the city bans discrimination against transgender people.[6] The Task Force addressed law enforcement issues and a joint task force between the Police and Human Rights Commission was created to address law enforcement treatment of transgender citizens. The Police Departments Office of Citizens Complaints (OCC) also adopted recommendations from the task force to implement sensitivity training and protocols regarding police interactions with transgender people.[7] Theresa Sparks moved on to become San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner, and Cecilia Chung replaced Theresa on the Human Rights Commission, thus maintaining two important commission seats.[8][9] Cecilia, Theresa and other transgender leaders went beyond the work of this task force to join with community leaders in creating the transgender pride march on LGBT Pride weekend, and participated in the formation of the Transgender Political Caucus among many other remarkable efforts during this time.[10]

Photo of Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force Members Theresa Sparks and Veronika Cauley (center) and others at the moment San Francisco’s Transgender Health Benefit Ordinance was passed.

The San Francisco Transgender Health Plan – A First and Model for the Nation.

The most historic advancement that came out of the work of the Task Force was a change to San Francisco’s health plan for city employees. Supervisor Leno authored and Mayor Brown signed an ordinance to change the city’s health plan to include sex reassignment surgeries, hormone therapy and other care for transgender people as part of the city health plan.[11] The impact of this change went far beyond city employees.[12] Insurance providers that contract with the city were now required to include transgender care as part of the benefit options available in their health coverage, paving the way for transgender healthcare benefits to be available to businesses around California and the nation.[13] Previously, insurance providers had not even offered these benefits. Task force members were written up in full-page stories in the New York Times and other national newspapers, while Leno appeared on television and talk radio stations throughout the country to discuss the issue. The media coverage reached South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and all over the United States. This is yet another clear example of Alice supported legislators passing legislation that had an impact far beyond the City of San Francisco.[14]

Changing Alice’s name

In 2001 under the leadership of Chair Paul Hogan, Alice made an important change to rename the club “The Alice B Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club.” Alice took the lead in outreaching to the transgender community and was the first of the two major LGBT Democratic Clubs in San Francisco to include “Transgender” in its official name. The vote to change the club’s name was unanimous.[15]

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera

Alice Candidate Dennis Herrera becomes City Attorney

Alice member and Alice’s endorsed candidate for City Attorney Dennis Herrera made a successful run for the job first in 2000, then again in 2005. A close friend of former Alice Co-Chair Robert Barnes, Herrera has been a steadfast ally of the club, continuing his longstanding commitment to LGBT rights. Herrera took the lead in defending the City’s action to marry same-sex couples and never wavered in his commitment to LGBT people.

Mark Leno Elected to State Assembly

Longtime Alice hero Mark Leno became the first gay man elected to the State Assembly, along with John Laird of Santa Cruz. Leno continued his groundbreaking work for the LGBT community with legislation such as Assembly Bill 196, signed by Governor Davis, which banned discrimination against transgender people in housing and employment. The bill protects transgender people in all areas of California from discrimination, and even strengthened protection in localities that previously banned transgender discrimination before the law. San Francisco’s local ordinance banning discrimination against transgender people had few actual remedies for violation of the law. With changes to state law, employers and landlords now face serious charges if they discriminate against transgender people in employment or housing.

California Legislature creates the LGBT Caucus

LGBT statewide activism showed enormous progress in the year 2002 as Assemblymembers Mark Leno, John Laird, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe and Senator Sheila Kuehl formed the California Legislature’s first LGBT Caucus. The five members saw the passage of crucial legislation signed into law including Leno’s AB 196 to ban discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing; Kehoe’s AB 17 to require companies that do business with the state of California to provide equal benefits offered to domestic partners and married couples; Goldberg’s AB 205 which upgraded domestic partnership legal rights and responsibilities in California to almost equal status to marriage; and Laird’s AB 1400 amending the Unruh Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories protected from discrimination in public accommodations.[16][17]

Supervisor Bevan Bufty

Bevan Dufty Elected to the Board of Supervisors

In 2002, Longtime Alice member and gay candidate Bevan Dufty was elected as the Supervisor for the Castro in District 8. Dufty created an Improvement District for the Castro and worked closely with local neighborhood groups on a series of local changes that were designed to keep the Castro safe, clean and a place we can all take pride in. Bevan has worked with the State Library Commission to pursue funding for the LGBT Historical Society to expand its operations into a Castro facility, and he has been a tireless fighter for LGBT issues at City Hall.

Nancy Pelosi photo taken in 2003 when she was the first woman elected Democratic House Minority Leader.

Alice Friend Nancy Pelosi Becomes Democratic House Minority Leader

In 2003 Nancy Pelosi made a successful run for leader of the Democratic Party in Congress, which preceded her becoming Speaker of the House in 2006. The highest-ranking woman in office in American history,Nancy got there largely because of her impressive legislative record, fundraising, tactical skill for the party and with critical help from Alice. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt, and Alice was vital to her victory, narrowly winning the special election to replace former Congressman Philip Burton. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt. From Day One, Alice was there to help Pelosi become one of the most powerful leaders in America, and one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies. As a liberal from San Francisco, she would never have won the confidence of the national party if she could not back up her progressive values with financial leadership. Alice’s longtime support was an asset to her rise in power. Nancy has proven to be a true friend of the community for her years of leadership in supporting Ryan White Care Act funding for people with AIDS, her support of domestic partnership rights and other LGBT causes. Nancy is an historic American leader and Alice can be proud of playing a role in her success.[1][2]

Susan Leal runs for Mayor

Longtime Alice friend Susan Leal made history as the first Latina lesbian to run for Mayor in San Francisco in 2003. Alice endorsed her candidacy and worked hard on her behalf. Leal said about the race in Curve Magazine: “what my candidacy does is it sends a message to women, whether they’re queer or women of color, that the last barriers could be broken.

District Attorney Kamala Harris

Alice Candidate Kamala Harris becomes District Attorney

In December of 2003, Kamala Harris was elected San Francisco District Attorney with the overwhelming support of Alice early in her campaign. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, Kamala has proven to be an effective champion for our issues as the City’s DA. One of her most important fights on behalf of the community has been to combat the gay/transgender panic defense used in California to defend acts of violence against our community.[3] Law enforcement issues such as these have been critical to Alice since it’s beginning. The ‘Twinkie Defense’ [4] used to give Dan White a lenient defense in his trial for the murder of Harvey Milk, and the ‘Transgender Panic’ argument used to defend the murderers of transgender high school student Gwen Araujo [5] are just two examples where legal arguments have been designed to play upon homo/transphobia in the judicial response to violence against the LGBT community. Our community must demand equal treatment by the judicial system and equal protection from law enforcement, and Kamala has been a very effective leader in fighting for these principles with the support of Alice. [6]

Carole Migden Elected to State Senate

Building on years of support from Alice, Carole Migden was elected in 2004 as the second lesbian ever (following Senator Sheila Kuehl) to the California State Senate. Migden had spent the interim years after she left the State Assembly as the Chair of the Board of Equalization prior to running for Senate.[7]

San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros

Former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros becomes City Treasurer

In September 2004 Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros to become the city Treasurer. Once again, the work of Alice paid off with an effective city treasurer who is one of our closest allies. Cisneros went on to win a full term as treasurer later that year and continues to be a strong voice working with Alice in local government.[8]
Police Chief Heather Fong introduces Theresa Sparks, President of the San Francisco Police Commission

Theresa Sparks becomes first Transgender Police Commissioner in San Francisco

In 2004 former Alice Chair Theresa Sparks was sworn in as San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner and would later become elected President of that Commission. After years of advocacy around police issues, Alice saw one of its chairs take a leadership role directly on the police commission and transgender advocates saw transgender leaders serve as officials in the City.[9][10]

Alice Candidate Phil Ting Becomes San Francisco’s Assessor / Recorder

In 2005 another close friend of Alice made a successful run for office as Phil Ting won election to City Assessor/Recorder. Mayor Newsom appointed Phil because of his strong progressive credentials, long history of professional work at the Assessor/Recorder’s office, and his reputation as a non-political choice for the job. Phil Ting was the most qualified candidate for Assessor / Recorder and the electorate voted him in with Alice’s strong support.[11]

Alice Joins Coalition Effort – “And Castro For All”

In 2005 Alice participated in a broad campaign to address charges of racism at a Castro business as the community had an important dialogue about racial justice. Many African Americans have felt that the Castro is not an inclusive space for communities of color. In this context, the Human Rights Commission issued a report about a Castro establishment finding the business had engaged in racially biased business practices.[12] During this time, Alice Board Member John Newsome had this to say about the issue:

“Sometimes, the Truth matters most when it’s the most unpopular… Truth and, ultimately, Justice are well worth the effort.”

Marriage, The New Beginning

By 2004, Alice and a broad coalition of allies had spent decades creating a very different world for the LGBT community than when Jim Foster started Alice. On Valentine’s Day, 2004, a time known in San Francisco as “The Winter of Love”, the community of San Francisco was ready to turn the page to a new day in our movement.

Marriage – The New Beginning

Of course Valentines Day 2004, the “Winter of Love,” was not the beginning of the fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian, the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.

On February 14, 2004, Mayor Newsom directed the County Clerk to recognize same sex marriages, citing the US Constitution, and challenging state law as being unconstitutional. People rushed down to City Hall with their friends and families grabbing flowers and their best outfits to experience the words “I do”, with the blessing of the City. The religious right tried to halt the marriages, but the ceremonies continued for several weeks. There were thousands and thousands of same-sex couples who came from all over California, the nation and the world to be a part of it; and they happily waited in lines wrapped around City Hall with City workers volunteering twelve-hour days to marry as many people as possible while the courts allowed the marriages to continue. It felt like a moment when everything changed for our community and we could never go backwards again.[1][2]

It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to take that stand for marriage equality without the support of groups like Alice. All the years of work building political support behind the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.

Mark Leno carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and countless activists around the state had moved California opinion significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time when others were afraid.

Thousands marching down Market Street, San Francisco in support of Marriage Equality

Above (top): Former Alice Co-Chair Laura Spanjian, Former Alice Co-Chair Scott Wiener, and Former Alice PAC Chair Rafael Mandelman; Above (bottom) Former Alice Co-Chair Julius Turman and Former Alice Co-Chair Rebecca Prozan. Four out of five of the Alice leaders pictured above along with former Alice Co-Chair Theresa Sparks, ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 2010.

Conclusion:

Much can be learned from the work done at Alice. Decades ago after Stonewall signaled a new era for LGBT people, the community was stuck in a conspiracy of silence and a world that despised and misunderstood it. At that time, Alice sought an alliance with the Democratic Party. Over decades of work with allies around the nation, LGBT people were finally able to break the conspiracy of silence. Through years of work, Alice and other political organizations helped coordinate the energy of the LGBT movement into a local, state and national political platform that won systemic changes for the entire nation. Through the support of many leaders such as Mark Leno, Carole Migden, John Laird, Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, Bevan Dufty, Leslie Katz, Theresa Sparks, Dennis Herrera, Jackie Speier, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and countless others; Alice helped transform law and sentiment towards LGBT people. San Francisco was at the forefront of change for Consensual Sex Legislation, Domestic Partnership, Equal Benefits, Transgender Health, and Marriage Equality to name just a few of the causes locally championed that went on to have national impact. And thirty years after Harvey Milk told the world “You’ve Gotta Give ‘em Hope,” California declared May 22nd “Harvey Milk Day” in a bill signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.

The LGBT community has seized and shaped its destiny over the last few decades. As we in the community look to our future, it’s important to remember how our efforts right now, even the small tasks we do along the way, really do change the world.

References & Notes

  1. Lamberg, Lynne. Soulforce, August 12, 1998. Gay Is Okay With APA (American Psychiatric Association) Story on the history of the American Psychiatric Association 1973 removal of homosexuality from being categorized as a mental disorder.
  2. Wikipedia. The Modern Women’s Movement
  3. Phrases.org. “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name”
  4. Wikipedia. Phrase “coming out
  5. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1972. Pgs 1-2. Discussion of the beginnings of Alice, the national election, and Alice’s purpose.
  6. Wikipedia. Jim Foster
  7. Wikipedia. Society for Individual Rights (SIR) (the Society for Individual Rights was an organization formed during a period of the gay rights movement called the “Homophile” movement, and SIR would later be renamed and chartered within the Democratic Party as the Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.
  8. Wikipedia. Daughters of Bilitis
  9. Wikipedia. Mattachine Society
  10. Clendinen, Dudley and Nagourney, Adam. 1999. Out for Good – The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon and Shuster Recounts Jim Foster organizing the Society for Individual Rights in 1964 and bringing the membership of this organization to become members of a chartered group of the Democratic Party called the “Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.”
  11. Wikipedia. Alice B. Toklas
  12. Wikipedia. The Phrase “Friend of Dorothy”
  13. Wikipedia.George McGovern
  14. Clendinen, Dudley and Nagourney, Adam. 1999. Out for Good – The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York. Simon and Shuster. pgs. 132-133.
  15. Wikipedia. Hubert Humphrey
  16. Democratic National Party Platform, 1972 The “Gay Plank” which Jim Foster proposed was removed. The only language the Democratic Party left that remotely relates to homosexuality was under “The Right to be Different” section, and says “Americans should be free to make their own choice of life-styles and private habits without being subject to discrimination or prosecution.”
  17. “Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, Vol. 1. Issue 1. Pg. 3.” Letter from candidate McGovern reprinted from the August 24, 1972 Village Voice.
  18. Hartlab, Peter. 1999. Obituary, Dorothy von Beroldingen. San Francisco Chronicle. December 21.
  19. 1998. Obituary, State Senator Milton Marks. San Francisco Chronicle . December 5.
  20. Wikipedia. Quentin Kopp
  21. Wikipedia. Dianne Feinstein
  22. Molotsky, Irvin. 1998. Obituary, Mayor Joseph Alioto. New York Times. January 30.
  23. San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. Michael Hennessey. 
  24. Wikipedia. “Medical Marijuana”
  25. Democratic National Party Platform, 1976 No “Gay Plank” in this 1976 Party Platform
  26. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1976 Alice delegates report on the 1976 Democratic Convention. [See Documents page]
  27. Scheer, Robert. 1976. Interview with Jimmy Carter. Playboy Magazine. November.
  28. Carter, Jimmy. 1998. Living Faith. Three Rivers Press. Excerpt of Jimmy Carter Recollections on 1976 Election Year interview with Playboy Magazine
  29. Wikipedia. “Sodomy Laws”
  30. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club (later named the Harvey Milk Democratic Club) Cover of newsletter. [See Documents page]
  31. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club, pg 2 (discusses why the club formed) [See Documents page]
  32. Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 1 The Stonewall Democratic Club was chartered in Los Angeles by Morris Kight in 1975. This edition of the Stonewall newsletter recounts the formation of the club. Stonewall later became a national alliance of LGBT Democratic Clubs and San Francisco had a Stonewall chapter through much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the chapter disbanded. [See Documents page]
  33. Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 2 Stonewall Democratic Club History continued. [See Documents page]
  34. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1982 “National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs” Founded [See Documents page]
  35. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1977 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone makes several public commitments to the gay community [See Documents page]
  36. Wikipedia. George Moscone
  37. Moral Majority Coalition, The. “Moral Majority Timeline”
  38. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, May, 1977 Alice helps organize the fight in Dade County Florida [See Documents page]
  39. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pgs 1-2 Backlash against consensual sex law. This backlash would build into an organized effort in following years led by State Senator Briggs to place Measure 6 on the 1978 state ballot to ban gay people from being teachers. [See Documents page]
  40. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 4 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
  41. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 7 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
  42. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, June, 1979 Recounting the Dan White trial and local upheaval + police incident at “Pegs Place”, a lesbian bar. [See Documents page]
  43. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1978 Death of Harvey Milk, recounting his life and impact on politics [See Documents page]
  44. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 1) [See Documents page]
  45. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 2) [See Documents page]