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April 2013

Barbra Streisand's 1st TV Special, "My Name is Barbra", Airs (April 28, 1965)

My_name_is_barbraSpringtime was an important time for Barbra Streisand's early career as her first TV appearance (Jack Paar, 1961); two Broadway shows; two TV specials; and her Oscar for Best Actress (Funny Girl) all occurred in March or April.  The first of her TV specials aired on April 28, 1965.  Titled "My Name is Barbra", it coincided with the release of her album by the same name. 


The special was shot in black & white and featured no guests, just Barbra.  Amazingly, the hour-long telecast was jam-packed with 27 songs (actually, less than an hour when taking commericals into account).  The special was critically acclaimed, won three Emmy Awards, and was followed in 1966 by her next special "Color Me Barbra" , which would be another tour de force.    



Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall: A Performance for the Ages (April 23, 1961)




Forgive some of our gay elders if they look askance when the younger generation gushes about seeing the likes of Cher, Barbra or Madonna in concert.  This may be because, in their minds, they saw the concert, i.e., Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall.  This wildly acclaimed performance took place on Sunday, April 23, 1961.  And although she was a showbiz veteran, at the time of the concert Judy was still only 38 years old (just four years older than Marilyn Monroe).


Judy's career had been somewhat fallow since the mid-1950s when she appeared in A Star is Born in 1954.  She and her managers decided 1961 would be the year for a comeback.  After all, she still had quite a reservoir of goodwill from fans to tap into - and she was saddled with debt.  Her Carnegie Hall concert was part of a larger tour that went on during April and May.  (In addition to the concert tour, she also landed a small, but pivotal, role in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.)  In May she returned to Carnegie Hall for another sold-out performance, and then in July she performed at the Forest Hills Tennis Club in Queens.   




Judy's live concert album won five Grammy Awards and was the nation's #1 album for 13 weeks.  The following year she starred with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in an acclaimed TV special.  Due to its ratings success CBS decided to give Judy her own variety show the following year.  Unfortunately, it lasted just one season, largely because it had the misfortune of being scheduled opposite Bonanza.  Still, Judy was back!




45 years later out singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, who wasn't even born until 1973, gave the very same concert at Carnegie Hall on two nights.  He seemed to have much fun as Judy did - and the audience was almost as adoring - but the reviews weren't nearly as glowing.  Here, below, is his version of Judy's San Francisco.  






Oprah Winfrey Gets the Low Down on the "Down Low" (April 16, 2004)

Down_low_oprah The phrase "on the down low", or the DL, refers to men of color who, while not identifying themselves as being gay, have furtive sex with other men.  This urban slang was picked up by the media at the turn of the 21st century and it picked up steam a few years later with articles in TIME, The Village Voice and the New York Times Magazine.  Then Oprah introduced it to her viewers during an episode of her show that aired on April 14, 2004.  



Downlow.hip-hopOf course, while the DL may be a black construct, men with wives and girlfriends who sneak off to have sex with other men is hardly limited to blacks.  It's been explained that the term was coined because of an aversion many black men have to being labeled as gay.  (Based on the black men I've known, it's quite a generalization.)  Apparently, in the minds of these men, having sex with a man isn't the same thing as being gay, which they equate with being effeminate.  (I wonder if a similar term has been coined in Arabic for Muslim men?)   



Grindr_logo Today, thanks to online chat rooms and the iPad app Grindr, sneaking off for a quickie has never been easier or more tempting.  (Fooling around in the steam room at the gym is so 20th century.)  Because of these new means of communication, wives and girlfriends would surely be freaked if they knew the extent to which husbands and boyfriends play around with other men before work, during lunch and after work.  



Gay_newyork_george_chauncey However, it's hardly a new phenomenon.  In the book Gay Manhattan, which talks of gay life in the first half of the 20th century, author George Chauncey revealed that it wasn't uncommon for a straight blue collar guy to have a gay acquaintance on the side to get him off (without reciprocation) whenever their wives weren't able to provide for all their sexual needs. 




TIME Magazine Cover Story Asks "How Gay is Gay?" (April 16, 1979)

Time_how_gay_is_gayApril 1979 was a milestone month for me.  I had just moved to New York to start my first job out of college (ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves) and I was living on my own for the first time.  I was starting my second week at the new job when TIME Magazine published a cover story titled "How Gay is Gay?" (with a cover date of April 23, it hit newsstands today).  The story was a positive portrayal of the state of gay America.  This was in contrast to a cover story published 10 years earlier titled "The Homosexual" which painted a more dreary picture.  (My first ZeitGAYst post reported on that cover story.)             


White_painters_pantsThe story reported on the influence gay men had in gentrifying formerly undesirable urban neighborhoods and in starting fashion trends.  Introducing disco to mainstream America was also mentioned.  One gay New Yorker who was interviewed commented that he first saw Adidas sneakers and white painters pants being worn as casual wear out on Fire Island a few years before they caught on with the rest of the country. 


Its_ok_to_be_gay One observation made in the article seemed like it was written today rather than 34 years ago: "A few younger gays, especially in the cities, have never hidden their identities".  And even in 1979 thirty-nine cities and towns had already enacted ordinances prohibiting anti-gay discrimination in jobs and housing (NYC wouldn't pass such a law until 1986).  Furthermore, 120 companies, including AT&T and IBM, had anti-discrimination policies as it pertained to hiring or promotions.    


Later that year I came out to a friend I worked with, Marina, and she told me she wasn't surprised and mentioned this cover story.  It seemed that I kept that particular issue of TIME on my desk for a while and she thought I was making a subtle statement.  

"The Boys in the Band" Opens on Broadway (April 14, 1968)

4869736-Making_the_Boys Just three months after opening off-Broadway, Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band came to Broadway, opening on Easter Sunday.  It offered an unvarnished glimpse of eight homosexuals at a birthday party and was the first play to openly portray the lives of gay men.  It ran for three years and was made into a movie in 1970.  I first saw the movie in January 1981 when it was showing at the Eighth St. Playhouse in the Village.  I found it depressing and dripping in cloying stereotypes.  However, I did enjoy the opening credits in which Cole Porter's Anything Goes was playing.  



Mart_crowley Crayton_robey The 2011 documentary Making the Boys tells the story behind the creation of the play.  It may also be of interest to fans of Natalie Wood, who is mentioned repeatedly since she was a dear friend of Crowley's (who is now 78, pictured far left).  It was directed by Crayton Robey (near left), who also directed the documentary When Ocean Meets Sky, which tells the story of Fire Island Pines.



Making_the_boys Unfortunately, like most documentaries that delve into gay history, Making the Boys played in just a few theaters nationwide.  In New York it played at Quad Cinema last year for only two weeks.  (Luckily, I saw it the last night it was there).  It's a sad commentary on the lack of interest in our history.  However, it did play at the Tribeca Film Festival and at a number of gay film festivals.  Perhaps it will get picked up by LOGO (like When Ocean Meets Sky).





An excellent discussion about the play and movie can be found at CinemaQueer.com . 



Krystle & Alexis Engage in Nasty Catfight on "Dynasty" (April 13, 1983)

Krystle_and_alexisHeterosexual males have had plenty of memorable heavyweight boxing matches throughout the years to get their blood boiling, e.g., Ali v. Frasier and Patterson v. Johansson to name just a few.  But on the night of April 13, 1983, we gays got our "fight of the century" when Dynasty's Krystle and Alexis went at it with each other and ended up flailing about in a lily pond on the Carrington estate.  When Krystle's husband Blake pulls her out of the pond he has these choice words for her:


"No matter what the provocation is, I will NOT have my wife acting this way.  A common brawl in a lily pond - with HER!  You look like a couple of female mud wrestlers!"  (To view this clip doubleclick here.)  


This was just one of a number of nasty altercations between Krystle and Alexis during Dynasty's nine seasons, but it is perhaps the most cherished of them all.  Drag queens especially love to re-enact it during the summer months.  This brings to mind another classic catfight that involved water - the scene from Valley of the Dolls in which Neely O'Hara (played by Patty Duke) pulls off Helen Lawson's wig (played by Susan Hayward) during a fight in the lounge of a fine restaurant's ladies room and then triumphantly tosses it into the toilet.













The Village People Appear on the Cover of "Rolling Stone" (April 12, 1979)

Village_people_rolling_stone A few months after rocker Rod Stewart succumbed to the Disco Fever sweeping the nation in 1979 with his disco smash Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? (four weeks at #1), the world of rock capitulated further when Rolling Stone put the Village People on the cover of its April 19 issue (it hit newsstands today).  The magazine had earlier cover stories on the Bee Gees in 1977 (posing in their famous white disco suits) and Donna Summer in 1978, but the Village People cover was an indication of how gay culture was being slowly absorbed into mainstream America.  Soon their song YMCA would be played at wedding receptions and performed by ground crews at baseball games.  And a commercial for Old El Paso salsa from the early 1990s was set to the song Macho Man.


Old el paso salsa commercial


Unlike most novelty groups, the Village People managed to chart three songs in the top 20 of Billboard's Hot 100: YMCA went to #2; In the Navy peaked at #3; and Macho Man topped out at #14.   


Disco_demolition_night However, the Rolling Stone cover may have been the straw that broke the camel's back as a backlash against disco music soon began - culminating in the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" riot at Chicago's Comiskey Park in July.  But 30+ years later the mention of the Village People is still likely to put a smile on most faces.   


Other ZeitGAYst posts about the Village People:

Coming Out with the Help of the Village People

The Village People Appear on American Bandstand

Creator of the Village People Dies of AIDS

Glenn Hughes, Village People's "Leatherman" Dies

The Lunacy of Abstinence Before Marriage

  Celibate_teensI'm no psychologist, but that hasn't kept me from having a strong opinion rooted in psychology when it comes to the subject of "saving oneself" for marriage, aka abstinence.  As I see it, the way someone expresses himself/herself sexually is a crucial part of one's personality, so waiting until the wedding night to reveal it seems ludicrous.  The time before marriage, at least in Western cultures, should be a period of discovery, a time to learn the "lay of the land", so to speak.  Wouldn't it behoove a couple to discover beforehand if they have sexual chemistry?  I'm sure many of us have experienced the frustration of dating someone who's wonderful to be with but just doesn't "push our buttons" in the bedroom.  For these reasons, this is why I don't find a vow of celibacy admirable but, rather, something to advise against. 


Tim_tebowSo what's really behind abstinence or virginity "pledges"?  I often wonder if someone's choice to wait until their wedding night masks an inability to come to grips with a lack of desire for the opposite-sex.  Yes, Tim Tebow, America's most famous virgin (pictured), I'm thinking of you.

A Postcard Trip to Fire Island Pines & Cherry Grove




Last year I published a post about Fire Island that featured some of my favorite photos taken in the Pines and Cherry Grove over the past 20 summers.  Then recently I was thumbing through my postcard collection and was pleasantly surprised to discover how many were related to the magic of Fire Island.  Touching on various aspects of life there, they brought back happy memories of the fun times. What follows is a sampling of these cards.  They evoke the island's natural beauty as well as offer a glimpse of some of its rarefied rituals and pleasures ...


Natural Beauty is part of the reason Fire Island is such a desired escape for residents of New York City.  And it starts with the 20-minute trip on the ferry across Great South Bay and arrival in the Pines harbor.




Fire Island Pines Ferry Dock


The postcard below shows the isolated beauty of the abandoned Coast Guard station at the western edge of the Pines at the entrance to the Meat Rack.  It was promoting a book of photography published by Pines resident Bill Caram.




A photography exhibit in early September 2006 at Sip'n Twirl by Tom Castele ws promoted with this postcard:




And then there's the natural beauty of the Meat Rack, displayed in this postcard from the early 1980s ...




Since there are approximately 700 homes in the Pines, on any given weekend you're bound to be invited to at least one house party.   On Saturday mornings postcard invitations are thumb-tacked to houses' entrances or slipped into mailboxes.  Most have themes.  For example, the house I had a share in on Driftwood Walk had a "Hat Party" held in early August.










Accomplished illustrator Robert de Michiell (who died in 2015) created a series of vibrantly colored postcards in the early 2000s depicting life in the Pines, with an emphasis on its physical specimens.






If you find yourself without a house party to go to, there are often community-wide events that serve as fundraisers.  The first postcard is for "Dance on the Bay", an outdoor event that takes place over July 4th weekend and raises money for the LGBT Center on 13th Street; the next postcard was for a production of Two Hot Men on a Cold Winter Night at the Community Center (since rebuilt and renamed Whyte Hall); the middle postcards promoted sit-down dinners sponsored by Lambda Legal; and the final postcard announces one of the "Fire Island Dance Festivals", which have taken place since the mid-1990s in the middle of July.  It raises funds for Dancers Responding to AIDS.












And, of course, let's not forget Cherry Grove ... 


Greetings from fire island




Want to read more about Fire Island?  Here are three additional posts I've written about the "island paradise":

A Photo Tribute to FIP & Cherry Grove

Coming & Going in the Meat Rack

"Invasion" of the Pines