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Illinois is First State to Repeal its Anti-Sodomy Law (January 1, 1962)

Greetings_from_illinois It was a wild time in Peoria on January 1, 1962 as Illinois became the first state to repeal its anti-sodomy law.  Ask most anyone on the street what sodomy is and it's likely they won't be able to give you specifics - but they know it has something to do with turning into a pillar of salt.  The fact that the definition refers to any sex act that isn't "natural" is of little help. (The song Sodomy from the Broadway show Hair offered some help.)  Also, many don't realize that such laws pertained to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals (but prosecution was usually reserved for gay men). 

 

40 years after Illinois' repeal 14 states still had anti-sodomy statutes on the books (mostly in the South).  But after upholding Georgia's anti-sodomy law in 1986 (in Bowers V. Hardwick) the Supreme Court in 2003 struck down Texas' law (Lawrence v Texas), thereby invalidating all remaining anti-sodomy laws nationwide.  (The book The Sodomy Cases discusses in detail these landmark cases.)

 


Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli Perform Together for 1st Time (November 17, 1963)

Judy_liza Judy Garland starred in a variety show during the 1963-64 season that aired Sundays on CBS.  On tonight's November 17 telecast one of her guests was her very own daughter, 17-year old Liza Minnelli.  This was the first time they performed together professionally and they sang Together, Bob White and The Best is Yet to Come.

 

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Judy_liza_christmas_showThe telecast aired five days before the assassination of President Kennedy.  A month later Liza also appeared on Judy's Christmas show (airdate: December 22) and performed a dance number with her "beau" (as Judy referred to him) Tracy.  The following year, also in November, mother and daughter performed at the London Palladium.

 

Happily, a number of DVDs of Judy's show are available, including one titled Judy Garland: Duets, which includes some of the numbers she sang with Liza.


Joan Crawford & Bette Davis Star in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (October 31, 1962)

Whatever_happened_baby_janeIt was well known that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford didn't like each other, so it would seem that little acting was required when they starred opposite each other as the battling, spinster Hudson sisters in the campy Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  By the time of the movie's release in the fall of 1962, both Oscar-winning actresses were in the sunset of their careers - Davis was 54 years old, Crawford 57.  How appropriate that the movie opened on Halloween.

 

 

The movie was a hit, the fourth most popular film of 1962.  (Its $9 million gross is comparable to about $100 million in today's inflation adjusted dollars.)  Davis was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actress category but lost to Anne Bancroft, who won for her role in The Miracle Worker.  The enterprising Crawford made her self available to Bancroft and accepted the Oscar on her behalf, triumphantly breezing down the aisle past Davis to accept the statue as if it were hers! 

 

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One of my all-time favorite movie lines is from Baby Jane.  After Joan's character, Blanche, bemoans how Jane wouldn't treat her so poorly if she weren't crippled and in a wheel chair, Jane coolly replies, "but you are, Blanche".  I've found that line very useful in countless situations where someone is complaining about their lot in life.

 

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In March 2017 an eight-episode series about the making of the movie aired on FX, starring Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford.  It was directed by Ryan Murphy.  At first glance, upon seeing the magazine cover below, I thought the actress playing Joan was Caitlynn Jenner!

 

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TIME Magazine Reports on "The Homosexual in America" (October 26, 1969)

TimeMag_HomosexualinAmericaIn late October 1969, four months after the Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village ignited the gay liberation movement, TIME Magazine ran a story on homosexuals that was featured on the cover.  Titled "The Homosexual in America", it was the first time a newsweekly gave such attention to America's gay population.  Unfortunately, for the most part it was an unflattering portrayal based on the prevailing negative attitudes of the times.  Its condescending tone was somewhat similar to that of a CBS News documentary that aired in 1967 called "The Homosexuals" which portrayed homosexuals as pitiable creatures. 

 

Gay_liberation_button Reading it today, parts of the article are amusing (e.g, "For many a woman with a busy or absent husband, the presentable homosexual is in demand as an escort — witty, pretty, catty, and no problem to keep at arm's length"), but for the most part it was a troubling depiction of gay men and lesbians.  Throughout the article the terms "homosexuals" and "deviates" were used interchangably.  Perhaps this harsh tone was society's way of pushing back in response to the fledgling gay liberation movement taking shape.

 

Here are some particularly wounding exceprts from the article:

  • The late Dr. Edmund Bergler found certain traits present in all homosexuals, including inner depression and guilt, irrational jealousy and a megalomaniac conviction that homosexual trends are universal.  Though Bergler conceded that homosexuals are not responsible for their inner conflicts, he found that these conflicts "sap so much of their inner energy that the shell is a mixture of superciliousness, fake aggression and whimpering. Like all psychic masochists, they are subservient when confronted by a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person."

 

  • The once widespread view that homosexuality is caused by heredity, or by some derangement of hormones, has been generally discarded.  The consensus is that it is caused psychically, through a disabling fear of the opposite sex. The origins of this fear lie in the homosexual's parents. The mother — either domineering and contemptuous of the father, or feeling rejected by him — makes her son a substitute for her husband, with a close-binding, overprotective relationship.  Thus, she unconsciously demasculinizes him.

  • Homosexuality is essentially a case of arrested development, a failure of learning, a refusal to accept the full responsibilities of life. This is nowhere more apparent than in the pathetic pseudo marriages in which many homosexuals act out conventional roles—wearing wedding rings, calling themselves "he" and "she." 

And here is how the article concluded:

The life of a homsexual is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life.  As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment.  But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste — and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.


10 years later Time would publish another gay-themed a cover story, this one titled "How Gay is Gay", which offered a much more positive and accurate portrayal of our lives. 

(The complete article can found at this link.) 

 

 


Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" Explains Why Gay Men Are Such Delightful Party Guests (Autumn 1964)

Susan_sontagWriter/essayist Susan Sontag (1933-2004) made a name for herself, mostly in intellectual circles, in the autumn of 1964 when she penned an essay in the quarterly Partisan Review titled "Notes on Camp".  In it she articulated for the first time the concept of "camp", a way of seeing the world that seems to be innate in many gay men and somewhat of a "secret code" among them.  Basically, it is the ability to find delight in the unintentionally inane, often created in all seriousness. 

 

Sontag's essay was comprised of 58 numbered "notes" about camp (notes 51-53 address homosexuals' affinity for it).  Double click here to read the essay.  A myriad of examples are cited throughout; for those not motivated to click on the link, here are some examples of camp I've selected:

 

  • Ethel Merman's 1979 disco album (released two weeks shy of her 71st birthday).

 

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  • Carol Channing's and "Up With People's" halftime performances at some early Super Bowls (which didn't take on the sheen of Camp until some 20-25 years later).
  • The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas (closed in 2011).

 

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  • Movies such as The Women (below), All About Eve, Auntie Mame and Valley of the Dolls

 

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  • Liberace's appearance on stage at a Labor Day performance in Minneapolis wearing red, white & blue sequined hot pants.
  • Pee Wee's Playhouse, which aired on CBS's Saturday AM lineup of kids shows.

 

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  • Choreographer Busby Berkeley's mesmerizing creations of chorus girls forming geometric patterns in movies such as 42nd Street, Ziegfeld Follies, and Dames.

 

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  • Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, an over-the-top performance that some think ended her career as a serious actress 
  • Ethel Merman's guest appearance on ABC's Batman as "Lola Lasagne".

 

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  • Andy Warhol's guest appearance on an episode of The Love Boat.
  • Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as pathetic, brawling, spinster sisters.

 

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  • Carol Burnett's portrayal on her variety show of a curtain-wearing Scarlet O'Hara in a parody of Gone With the Wind called Went With the Wind!
  • Katharine Hepburn's only Broadway role, as Coco Chanel, in the show Coco.

 

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Vikki Carr's Campy "It Must Be Him" Reaches the Top-10 (October 1967)

Vikkicarr One of the great "women in distress" classics is Vikki Carr's It Must Be Him, a song about a woman driven to distraction waiting for a man to call - a call that, of course, will never come.  Back in the days before caller ID the frantic/hopeful woman doesn't know who's on the phone until she picks it up - always with high expectations ("Let it please be him, oh dear God!" she wails.).  It's deliciously overwrought - and an experience many of us can empathize with.  

 

Princess_phone MoonstruckDespite its Adult Contemporary pedigree the song was a substantial hit on the pop charts as well.  On October 15, 1967 it broke into the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.  It peaked at #3 at the beginning of November where it stayed for two weeks.  (Right behind it at #4 was Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense & Peppermint.)  20 years later the song was included on the soundtrack of the movie Moonstruck, which won a Best Actress Oscar for Cher.

 

 

 

Two years later Miss Peggy Lee would release a song that topped Carr's on the camp meter, Is That All There Is


Barbra Streisand Appears on Judy Garland's Variety Show (October 6, 1963)

Barbra_and_judy The Judy Garland Show debuted on September 29, 1963 as part of CBS' Sunday night schedule and aired for just one season.  For the show's second telecast, which aired on October 6, Judy had as one of her guests 21-year-old Barbra Streisand, a singer taking the entertainment world by storm.  This would be the only time the two shared a stage together.  Babs' appearance was four months before she made her Broadway debut in Funny Girl

 

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Barbra_judy_ethel In a classic TV moment, Barbra and Judy sang a stunning duet of Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy and another with the theme "Hooray for Love".  Barbra also sang Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.  Later in the show they were joined by legendary Broadway belter Ethel Merman.  This telecast was truly every queen's wet dream.

 

 

 

 

 


Peggy Lee's Camp Classic "Is That All There Is?" Breaks Into the Top 40 (October 5, 1969)

Peggy_lee One of the most delightfully peculiar songs to hit the charts has to be Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is?  It entered the top 40 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Chart in early October 1969 and was Lee's first song to chart since Fever went to #8 in 1958.  Peaking at #11 in November, Is That All There Is? tells a tale of life's disappointments that is so maudlin it's hard not to chuckle when you listen to it.  It certainly has a secure spot in the "Camp Hall of Fame".  I remember hearing the song on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA after I got home from school.  At the time I was 12 and had no appreciation for camp.  I just thought it was a very peculiar, albeit somewhat catchy, tune.  Thinking back, the song is even funnier considering it was released during the psychedelic late '60s.  Click here to view a video clip.

 

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Many years later, in April of 2015, the song was used on the drama Mad Men in the opening and closing segments of the first episode (titled "Severance") of the show's final season.  


Richard Chamberlain Stars in "Dr. Kildare" (September 28, 1961)

The medical drama Dr Kildare debuted on NBC's primetime schedule on Sept. 28, 1961.  Starring 27-year-old heartthrob Richard Chamberlain, the show aired on Wednesdays at 8:30 and lasted for five seasons.  It was followed at 9:30 by another new show, the sitcom Hazel.  (And at 10:00, Sing Along with Mitch.Kildare was a hit and finished the season as the ninth most popular show (Hazel was #4). 

 

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Richard_chamberlain Vince_edwards_beefcake Although Chamberlain was certainly a handsome young man, I was more drawn to actor Vince Edwards, who also played a doctor on Ben Casey, a competing medical drama on ABC which aired on Mondays (but not as popular).  Edwards was more swarthy and brooding while Chamberlain was a cool WASP.  (My attraction to Edwards' type would continue through adulthood.)  However, at the time I was just five and had no conception about what a same-sex attraction suggested.  (I wrote about other same-sex attractions of my youth in the post Boyhood Crushes on Male TV Stars of the 1960s.)  

 

It was years before I heard any mention about Chamberlain being gay.  I first heard some talk about his orientation when he starred in the popular 1982 TV mini-series Shogun.  Chamberlain caused a bit of a stir a few years ago when he commented in an interview that he wouldn't advise TV actors to come out.  Chamberlain is now 80 (as of July 2014).  Vince Edwards died in 1996 at the age of 67.

 

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Here's a cheesy tribute to Chamberlain from his Dr. Kildare years that I found on You Tube: 

 

 

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In Praise of Mary Wilson of The Supremes

Supremes2I've always thought Mary Wilson was the most glamorous of the Supremes.  She had a beautiful smile, a sexy full figure and seemed the most approachable of the three Supremes.  And she was a constant presence through a number of personnel changes that occurred with the group, which she was a part of from 1961-1977.  (In the photo to the right, Mary is in the middle, between Diana Ross and Florence Ballard.)    

 

 

Not to take anything away from Diana, but Miss Ross was a largely manufactured star with a reed-thin frame, bulging eyes and a thin, rather screechy voice.  And although she grabbed much of the glory, Mary always gave Diana her due and refrained from badmouthing her.  I own a DVD boxed set of performances from The Ed Sullivan Show and one of the discs is devoted to the Supremes.  (In the photo to the left Mary is shaking Sullivan's hand.)  Watching their glorious performances I would find myself focusing on Mary who always seemed to be having a good time. 

 

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Sadly, Mary recently died (Feb. 8, 2021), a month shy of her 77th birthday (DOB: 3/6/44).  In 1986 her autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme was published.  It focuses on the groups rise and ascent to superstardom.  A sequel titled Supreme Faith was published in 1990 and details the years following Diana's departure and discusses Mary's career after the Supremes.  (The two books have since been combined into one 752-page volume available on Amazon.) 

 

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The Supremes with Ed Sullivan