Monday, May 29th, 2017

Interview with W. Dorr Legg

DorrLegg1958Interview with

W. Dorr Legg

by Paul D. Cain


This interview with W. Dorr Legg was conducted by Paul D. Cain on March 12, 1994, in the office of ONE, Incorporated. Edited for style by C. Todd White.


[Start of Tape 2, Side A; Tape 1 does not exist]

On Don Slater and “The Heist”

How about Don Slater?

Well, you certainly have some problem cases.

[Laughs]

He is—you, I assume, have interviewed him?

Not yet.

Well, I hope you get to him.

So do I.

You may not. Because it all depends on the weather, or whatever. Don Slater was certainly a very major figure in ONE’s history. He attended the second meeting that was held, because the first one was just— not a ONE meeting,it was an accident, it was […].

Right.

Don was very, very active for many years afterwards. And he was the editor for ONE Magazine for a year, at the very beginning. But that does not begin, that any of us could know what he himself called “The Heist” that he and others…

Perpetrated.

Engineered. […] from our point of view, stole our entire property! And left us with an empty building.

I have read a lot of stuff about “The Heist,” so I’m familiar with it. Is there anything that hasn’t been told about “The Heist” that you’d like to say or correct or…

Well, it’s a matter of record. We, we don’t talk about it much. Because we don’t see any point in doing it. It’s a matter that’s been legally settled, and the records are clear. I don’t know how clear Don is himself, to this day, out of it. Because Don is a very mercurial person, who simply has […]. He sort or tires of things like guitar [?].

[Laughs] Life is much simpler for some people that way.

[…] But, on the other hand, there isn’t any way of denying that he did a brilliant […] He did, somehow or other, pull together all the chaotic manuscripts […] and produce a remarkable little magazine for the years when he was publisher, or editor. You see, there were—many people think of him as the main editor. But the first editor was Martin Block. The second one was Dale Jennings. And the third was “Corky” Reid.

On Joan Corbin and “Corky” Wolf

Ann Carll Reid was for four years editor, at a very important point in our history. People don’t realize the role—right now, one of our graduate students is […] on the women of ONE.

Right. I was going to say, can you talk a little bit more about Ann. I don’t have much information about her other than, as you say, what you’ve mentioned here.

Well, she was really a very, very […] person, in that she and her then-lover, who was Eve Elloree [Joan Corbin], who was our artist for ten years—a very gifted artist […] and also very generous in the work she did for us over all those years. In fact, [she did] marvelous work. […] looked and said, “How can you afford it? Anybody that good?” […] And so they were both tremendously important.

Eve was actually Joan. [Joan] was very [talented as] an artist, who thought nothing of […] She could sit here and watch us […] and go on home, and you and I and he would be altogether perfectly identifiable. No photo, no anything.

Right.

[It is an] unbelievable feeling, to a person who doesn’t have that ability. And they had been together since babyhood, really. I asked them, “When did you two meet?” When they were four! And they had lived together all through school, and so on, and were young women in their, probably middle-thirties, when they were with us.

Right.

Apart from this, both of them were tiny, and very dynamic. Very outgoing. Amusing. A people collector, who liked all kinds of people around her. And kept everybody entertained, telling salesman stories and, you know. An outgoing person. She just pulled women into our roster by the dozens. And not only women, but men. And so, nobody can say that she wasn’t highly […] many a person.

For a couple of years, many of the meetings, before we […], were held in their home. I would say the majority of them, probably. Because they had an apartment, they were centrally located, and […].

Right.

So they drew a very eclectic [crowd]. The whole history of ONE would have been a very, very different thing except for those two women, and all the other women they brought in. Corky had one factor in her personality which I believe she […]. I have seen so many people who are born into a circumstance where there’s going to be an inheritance.

Yes.

And they’re ruined. They never fulfill. Because the inheritance is always coming down the road. And that was true with her. And, so we haven’t seen or heard from her in many years.

Is she, are they—is she still alive?

I have no idea. She simply… when she, ostensibly for health reasons, partly for a new lover, just moved out of sight and out of mind. We don’t know where they are.

Sure.

If alive.

Is there anything more you want to add about Gerry Brisette?

I don’t have any more. You’ll have to talk to Hal [Call].

To Hal. How about Dick Leitsch?

Well, I met him half-a-dozen times, but I don’t know him well all.

OK.

I’ve had very little contact with him. I’ve attended three or four meetings where he was at the meeting and spoke, or something like that. I don’t even have any clear picture at all.

Sure. How about Jack Nichols?

Now. Jack Nichols—he’s just a name that I know. I have no…

Oh, OK. There was one article that had mentioned that he introduced you to somebody else…

Well, that could be. That could be. But it would just be a passing thing.

Music and Urban Planning

Sure. I understand you have a degree in music, as I do.

Yeah.

In what area did you specialize?

Piano.

Oh, piano. Oh. That’s wonderful. I wish I had that skill. I’m a vocalist.

I took—which I found amusing—I was enrolled in two professional degrees at the same time at one university. And they didn’t have computers to call it up. So I got a masters, a bachelor of music in piano, and a masters in design and urban planning.

Right. How long did you work as an urban planner?

Oh, heavens. From 1928, when I graduated, until […]. And, and I continued a little bit in security, in that there was no movement! We were creating that. And even though I had affirmed that I was out, you still sort of kept your hand on land, you know. Of course, you wouldn’t sneak out of sight, so that it was—I must say, I was not entirely out of that provincial life until about probably ’58 or so, something like that. So I had upwards of a thirty-year career.

Gotcha.

Before there was—I had what could be an adequate professional career as a—in practice, and as a university professor in the field up until my mid-life. So that […] in my middle twenties.

Jolie’s Bar

I know that you participated in an interracial relationship, and it’s interesting to me that several of the other homophile leaders did as well. Do you think there’s anything in particular that that openness, that willingness to, to participate in a relationship that people were gonna—that some people would believe was beyond the pale, that that had something to do with the willingness to pick up and run with the movement?

Well, that’s nice. That’s a nice thought. But I don’t see anything in it.

OK. Just curious.

What I do see is, and very much of an exponent of the fact to my mind, that 99 and 9/10 percent of homophiles simply deny that there is a kermit [?] within our population which every—people say such things as an inter-generational thing. And they say, “Well! You could know why little so-and-so’s along. Look at the money.” Or other, in reverse, they would say, “You know why the older one is there, he’s got somebody to look after him.” Now, the simpler sociological and psychological facts are that there is an entire subculture within our population of thousands of younger men who find older men sex objects. And the proof of that—I don’t know whether you are aware of it, for many years, we at ONE, who invented gay travel, the first that ever was done, and I’ve conducted them all over the world, groups.

Right, right.

And you’ve got, in other parts of the world, well, […] just sick! The American attitude of advertising, and picture-boys, and all that sort of thing. They think it’s sick! They can’t understand it.

Yeah.

And so, I was telling a guy who was in here last week, no, earlier this week, what am I talking about? That in the Orient, I said, you’d better be at least 40, and have a waistline to match, or forget it.

Really!

You are just trash. They want—you have to, in Ausbruck [?] area, you have to have what you might call a standing of a certain amount of seniority, a certain amount of experience. I mean, otherwise, they are, as I say, pursuing you! So that I’d line them up with tours—I had this experience all over—and they certainly weren’t trying to emigrate to America. But they were simply living their culture. In Japan and Taiwan, that’s very true. In the Philippines,it is true in a less conscious way. They just sort of take it for granted. So that the idea of over-the-hill and so on, your concept of…they never heard of it.

Right.

They’re purely like, I’m afraid from my point of view, so much of what’s called the American culture is simply Madison Avenue making money.

True. Yeah.

And so, even though I myself, when I was growing up, I was not interested in my own generation.

Oh, no. Like me. I’m the same way.

I thought they were a bunch of little pimple-faced nobodies. And I liked older men. And, so that I have a standard phrase that I refused to speak to anybody under 30. I would not speak to them. And what I found was, that despite all of this talk, I was always lining up with somebody who was many years younger than I was.

Uh-huh. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

So that my first…  I didn’t believe in love affairs. You know, I thought that— for many, many years I just thought that was a joke. You know. People were having a chemical imbalance.

[Laughs]

And I’d seen those. And so, here I was, forty-something, and a 19-year-old was pursuing me, and I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it! Until I found out that it was the gospel truth.

And so the only lasting affairs that I’ve had have been people half my age. And right out there [indicating Johnny Nojima]. We’ve been together 32 years. So that he was distinctly very much younger when we met.

And, so I find that, I don’t even argue with people— I’m not even interested, really, in people […], “You know perfectly well…” Well, of course, they don’t know perfectly well. You know, this belief of ours that the mixing of the generations is not for real. It’s very, very much for real.

Oh, yes.

We have a, we were fortunate for quite a few years in Los Angeles to have a bar which was internationally known in the guidebooks for its inter-generational…

Which bar was that?

That’s called Jolie’s

Jolie’s?

But we’d had people get off the plane through Tokyo, and had to go on to New York, but come and take a taxi in to meet, and to actually see that this was true.

Is it still around?

And… No. It existed for really, I’m sure, 40 years or so. But the owners, and so on, there were — personal problems arose, so that the bar itself… There’s one called Jolie’s Two now, which is just a shadow of the original. But the original was one of the largest and most popular in L.A. and was entirely populated by this inter-generational thing. So when I got to know a great many of the people on both sides of the […]. So I know that this youth cult that you read about — and that I’m afraid that our gay press fosters, is a construct.

Yes.

Not that it doesn’t exist, I’m not saying that. I’m just simply saying that is not the norm. It’s a part of the scene.

Right. And the tendency is for them to make it appear that that’s the only thing that exists.

That’s right. Which is too bad.

Oh, sure.

This guy who was just in here taping me this week said that he met this very charming Chinese boy, and that they had such a wonderful relationship, and he’s in his forties, and the boy was 19 or 20. And, again, he — I think they either live in Philadelphia or Washington,I don’t know which— the kid began going to some of the meetings. And his peers got ahold of him, and said, “Why, you little fool! You know perfectly well this isn’t anything. He’s just using you!” And so on. And the kid finally became so brainwashed that he said, “No, I never did love you. I never did love you.” So there is just a clear case history.

Sure. That’s where I think this idea of political correctness gets in people’s way.

Of course.

If you find yourself falling in love with someone, what difference does it make?

Exactly.

You know, I mean I think that love needs to be fostered wherever it can be found.

There’s one thing about — women have less of that than men do. Women are much more flexible. Although both Corky and Joan were pretty much the same age. But women seem to be able to adapt to generational distances much, you know. They just aren’t as affected by that kind of advertising.

Sure.

Just commercialism in my view.

Chuck Rowland and The Church of ONE Brotherhood

I agree. When I spoke with Jim Kepner, he said that you were upset with Chuck Rowland over the Church of One Brotherhood because, both because Chuck used the ONE name and because he stole the idea from you.

Oh! [Laughs]

That is what Jim said.

“Jim said…” There you are.

Right. That’s why I wanted to talk about…

Talk about historical revisionism.

[Laughs]

The first hour that ONE sat down and began hammering out its articles of faith was that we would be totally secular. We would never sponsor nor oppose any religion. We would be apolitical. And we went in that fashion. I could no more imagine — it’s unthinkable! You see, Jim — I don’t know where he gets such an idea!

That’s why I wanted to talk to certainly you about it.

Yeah. That’s just fantastic.

Did you know much about the Church of One Brotherhood?

Oh, yes.

And what caused it to collapse? All I ever hear is that it suddenly collapsed.

It did. It did. The only, or the most authentic information on this is about six pages in the book Homosexuals Today.

Uh-huh.

It gives figures, politics, and so on. And Chuck Rowland was not really remotely interested in religion whatever. He was a pure Marxist who, well, he saw this as a mechanism for drawing a crowd.

And also, I think that religious freedom was probably going to be the one freedom in the First Amendment, for example, that was going to be least likely to…

Well, that is certainly true, but I never heard him once say anything like that. No, never. What he did see that it was a political strategy, and a useful one, he felt. And we tried desperately to get him not to go into it.

Right.

But he was determined to do so. So there’s where we parted the ways. We just said, “Well, Chuck, fine, go your way. But we will not go with you. We’re not remotely interested.”

And Jim [Kepner] said that it was tremendously successful for quite a while…

It was.

And can you tell me what happened that caused every, the house of cards to fall apart?

I don’t think anybody knows.

OK.

Or ever will. All I can say was that being a construct, there was, as Gertrude Stein said, “There was nothing there there.” And all of a sudden, it just hit people.

Wow.

And it caused his almost total collapse.

Right.

In fact, Dr. Evelyn Hooker said right to us, that “He’s gone.” She interviewed him, and said he’s gone. Meaning a mental case.

Yeah.

Total. Well, he did recover eventually, but it was a long, painful process. He was locked away, drinking with the shades pulled 24 hours a day.

Mercy.

And this sort of thing. He just couldn’t take it.

Yeah.

’Cause he had banked so much on it as a strategic hold. And it didn’t hold.

The Homosexual Bill of Rights Controversy

Can we talk about the relations between ONE, Mattachine and the Daughters [of Bilitis] from about the mid-’50s through, like, 1970? What I’ve seen indicates that you were very supportive of each other early on.

Yes.

And there began to be some divisions as that period went on.

Oh, yes. Yes, very much so. In fact, one of our doctorate students right now is writing what may be a small monograph or book that he hopes to get out in time for the Stonewall event showing that because in 1961, we had one of our mid-winter sessions which in many of the books, they will advertise about the first meeting of academic people held, and so on, you know, twenty years after we’ve been holding them. And we had one in ’61 called “The Bill of Rights,” the homosexual bill of rights. Founded quite consciously on the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Patterned on it. And that began a parting of the ways. It was almost instantaneous with the women. The women just couldn’t tolerate this idea at all.

Of having a Homosexual Bill of Rights?

Mm-hm. Oh! You have no idea. We laugh at how conservative and how conservative in the political sense the women were. They just could not — they came, a whole bunch of the Daughters of Bilitis came down from San Francisco and formally tried to dissolve the meeting as it opened! And there were people from all over the United States there.

What did they find so reprehensible about such an idea?

Well!

It didn’t need to be stated? Or…

No, no. They felt it was intolerable, that it was politically destructive, that it would set the movement back 25 years, if not destroying it, that we were radical — they’d never heard of the words “Radical Faeries” then —

[Laughs]

We were a bunch of radical kooks who imagined that they were going to insult American society by this kind of a concept, which they didn’t feel at all.

Amazing.

[End of Tape 2, Side A]

[Start of Tape 2, Side B]

…compatibility between the two began to diverge.

ONE v. Oleson

Sure. One of the quotes from the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, which I see right there on your shelf, was about the “landmark legal victory when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision by the postmaster of L.A. that made the periodical unmailable. The success opened the way for the present profusion of the gay and lesbian press.” Now, that’s ONE v. Oleson, is that correct, in 1958?

Well, yes. From ’54 to ’58. The Post Office seized the October ’54 issue of ONE Magazine and declared it obscene and unmailable. And it took four years for us to fight that verdict. That was the — from our point of view, that makes Somo [?] look like a bunch of little wimpy nothings. I mean, we took on the whole federal government for a period of four— and they spent big money, with top lawyers brought from Washington, to squash us. And they didn’t! We won. Which was unheard of.

One of the other things that what I read talked about was something called the Roth doctrine. Can you explain to me what that is? I didn’t see anything about that until yesterday. Are you familiar with that?

Roth? In what connection was this?

It seemed to me that that was part of what either ONE v. Oleson either set in place or was challenging, it seemed from what I read. I could be mistaken on that.

I would check that quote up.

I will. I will.

That sounds very questionable to me.

If you haven’t heard of it, then that’s fine.

Duberman’s Stonewall

You had few kind words for other homophile leaders in 1965 and 1966, according to Martin Duberman’s Stonewall. Have you changed your opinion about any of them, and what are your feelings about today’s leaders?

Now, let’s continue. Or start with the Duberman thing. I wonder what, I don’t recall exactly what he might be referring to. Whom, and so on.

Let’s see. He said that you had kind words for Foster Gunnison, but not for Bill Beardemphl and Shirley Willer and Clark Polak, and several of those folks.

Oh, this again! You see, here is the confirmation of what I told you about. This is — he’s making references to NACHO and other meetings at that time.

Right.

Well, the evidence is in our files, 25 drawers of them, up here. And he — which [Duberman] has not seen!

Right.

No. I have always spoken, as Hal Call has irritated people, by saying to them, “Well, I don’t think much of Bill Beardemphl. I don’t agree with him at all.” And I felt no obligation to act as if I did.

Of course.

And — because from our viewpoint, there were people coming along and sticking their oar in, and claiming to have, you know, revealed truths that we’d been working on for 20 years, and had discussed in endless meetings, you know. It was sort of tiresome.

Sure.

As far as Shirley Willer was concerned, I think that some of us just felt that she was being unnecessarily noisy and butch in public. But, I mean, it had nothing to do with her views that I recall at all. It would be just a feeling that, you know, I don’t expect to invite her out for dinner.

Right.

So, no. But there were all kinds of people coming along that we didn’t have interest in. As I say, Johnny-come-latelys who were saying, “Oh! Did you know…” Something we’d been talking about for 25 years, you know. And debated to death, is what I’m saying. And then they want us to start all over again. Well, this was very boring. And we told them so! And therefore, that makes you — Duberman makes you, that’s the kind of interpretation that he might make. With an observation, and in the background, without really knowing what was being referred to.

Sure. Well, that’s why I wanted to go directly to the source to see. Because otherwise, that’s going to be, you know, an historical view that is likely to go unchallenged unless somebody comes to you and says, you know, is this accurate?

It’s true. It’s just, there are all kinds of people around that time. And since! With whom none of us here would agree, and they didn’t agree with us. So it was mutual.

Right, right.

On the unification of ONE, IGLA, and the HIC archives

Do you think that it’s possible that IGLA, ONE, and the HIC may eventually combine resources to form one repository of gay and lesbian materials?

That has been endlessly debated by people who suggested it as a new discovery, a new revelation. And they just struck them from out of the blue. That kind of thing has been talked about for years. Jim has had his books in and out of ONE’S library for years. And before he had anything at all, there was just his little private collection. And then he would, every time there was some kind of a disagreement, he would jerk ’em out and go home, and then finally, I think he just felt that he could never be comfortable until he formed something of his own. As far as HIC (“hick,” we call them, as far as we’re concerned), I don’t know how. I don’t know how.

Ideologically or practically?

Both!

’Cause the collection’s in Louisiana now, is it not?

No! […]

Oh, OK. I understood that it was.

Well, you were given to understand. That’s exactly what happened. There were, are statements that were made publicly, after the quarters they had been occupying in Hollywood for years became earthquake-dangerous […], this P.R. was released. Because one of their supporters in Louisiana [Billy  Glover] had a property there which would house them.

Right.

Which was in the well-known homophile center of the South, Bossier City, Louisiana.

[Laughs] I always found that rather peculiar myself.

And when Bossier City began to get wind of this, they found it would be not prudent to house very many books there. And if there have been two boxes of books there, I would just be amazed.

[Laughs]

They’re all right here, in Los Angeles where they’ve been all the time.

Wow!

No, I think that it would be difficult for us to find it — suitable is the only word, […] — to think of joining a thing which has had such unhappy experiences with each other. That doesn’t say that the books, or the things that are […]. We don’t know how it would be, or how big Don’s is. And he makes it quite sure that no one does know. The whole thing, as far as we know, is in his home and has been there for years. I mean, he has quite a large house, an old farming segment, and I think that Jim has, at some time along the line, seen some or part of it, according to what I’ve heard him say.

Right.

But when we came here ten years ago, and had all this room, Jim [Kepner] broached the idea, and Jim’s people talked with our people, but Jim set up such a utterly impractical set of regulations for such a thing. Such as that we would have to be open until 2:00 in the morning on weekends, and all this sort of thing. I mean, he really believed this! Because there would be people getting out of the bars who might like to come.

That’s fascinating! [Laughs]

Well! Our people just looked at these, and sort of said, “Who is going to staff all of this? Who is going to defend and protect the material? When? And how?” You know, it was just utter fantasy. Of an ideal, which sounds splendid. But good heavens!

Yes.

We don’t make our material — some of which you may have seen across the hall there — we barely make it available, I mean, it’s available on a very limited basis to anybody! Simply because we don’t have the staff to do it. And still don’t. And Jim’s things are in not too different a status, situation. And Don’s things aren’t available to anybody! At all. Essentially. Although he talks about them. And issues a newsletter, which we get.

Ah!

But that doesn’t mean that…

Changes in Academia

Do you have a copy of an article you wrote in ’58 that says “I Am Glad I Am a Homosexual”?

Oh, yes! That’s, that’s been reprinted over and over and over.

OK. I’ve not yet seen it anywhere,and I’d love to get a copy of that.

Surely. We’ve given it out by the hundreds, I guess. So it’s all over the landscape.

Sure. In the [Brad] Mulroy interview that he did with you, you, I guess, were talking with Harry Hay at one point, and talked about the difference in scholarship between the earlier days and at that time. Do you think that gay and lesbian historical scholarship has gotten better, has gotten worse, is in the same sorry state?

Well, I think that what is undeniably true is that today there is a whole industry, practically, scattered around the country, of people who are working in the sociology, and so on, who have — well, Duberman’s a case. Boswell, for example. They’re people who have jobs! In academia. And are simply salaried, and doing the things they’re expected. And there are some very good things being done. I don’t know, are you familiar with Walter Williams’ work?

No.

Well, Walter Williams is one of the very well-known international young anthropologists. And he’s at [U]SC, and he’s on our faculty. And he […], and he’s doing very good work. But I don’t, for instance, see eye to eye with him on the objectives. From my point of view, what you are getting paid by public taxpayer money, you are already committed to not going too far out of line. And you can’t do that. D’Emilio, for instance, wrote his Sexual Politics book, or whatever, and now he’s gone off into utterly remote fields of work. So, Walter is not teaching a course in homosexual anthropology. He is teaching “Men and Women in Society,” is what it’s called.

Oh.

Need to adapt, you know. Well, we adapted. And so, although we can’t begin to cope or begin to think of matching the funds and things that these people have out of the taxpayer. They still have to adapt. We won’t adapt to anybody. We simply say we’re going to hew and let the chips fall where they may. And that’s a different idea.

I sense that one of ONE’s greatest strengths is its ability to really hold focus where it seems that a lot of other groups have gone on to different things.

That is true. That is very true. And that’s one of, going back to your, to Laud Humphreys and Karen Black [?], and so on. We haven’t, that has not interested us.

Church of ONE Brotherhood (again)

In fact, the great line of separation on the Church, the division, including educating, when Chuck Rowland had been for weeks and months trying to convince us this was the way to go, and we had a meeting. Very contentious meeting with our attorneys beside us, keeping order in the meeting. And everybody arguing about it.

And finally, it had gone on and on and on, pointlessly, and I said, “Well, now, everybody keep quiet. I see the problem. I can tell you what it is.” And I said, “Chuck,” — he had been talking about how this would bring thousands into the movement, give them a religious escape hatch that was, you know, propriety, and so on. And a way in. And we would all be joining, and he used to use the phrase, “Going arm in arm down the street, singing together.”

Right.

And I said, “Chuck. You don’t seem to realize that there isn’t anybody in ONE who wants to sing with anybody. That we don’t want to march anywhere, on any street. That’s not what we’re doing.”

Mm-hm.

And he fell back, and he said, […], “Why, Dorr! Is this some new doctrine?” I said, “No, Chuck. Nothing new about it. We just are not interested in collective groups. And this kind of political anything. We’re interested in people! Individuals, who have problems. And we’re going to try to help these people. And we want to know more about it ourselves. That’s what we’re doing.”

It astounded him. It astounded him. And so, so it is true that the people…and the first meeting after that, every committee we had was vacant. They all went to his church.

Oh, wow!

And we lost endless people, who did […]. Took them there. And then, of course, it did blow up.

Did you think at the time that that was going to be the end of ONE? When suddenly nobody was there?

Oh, no! Oh, no. Not remotely. Not at all. No, no. We didn’t feel that. We were just annoyed that he had really deliberately, we felt, undercut us. And not out of spite. But just out of that he had a higher truth, he felt. And they did too! At first. That is a dangerous theory. And so that is why it proved so, as Jim [Kepner] has described.

One of the things that you said in the Mulroy interview, which just seems peculiar that Chuck would say what he said, unless I have my time frames wrong. You mentioned that when the Mattachine started going in the L.A. Area, there were “tens of thousands” of people participating. So I have difficulty understanding where Chuck thought we were going to get more tens of thousands of people who were going to be coming out of the woodwork from somewhere. Do you have any idea what he was talking about, or do I just have my time frames wrong?

Oh! No. I would say that I’m pulling his leg with the talk of revisionism. I was being overly enthusiastic to say tens of thousands. There were certainly thousands. And it was the biggest miracle movement, until Stonewall. Without any question.

Right.

No, I don’t, I don’t see that we were looking at it that way. It’s just that he felt that this religious performance, show that he was putting on would draw great numbers of people. As I said, we’d all go singing together, which we didn’t want to do! We didn’t believe that people should be religious. We didn’t believe they should be irreligious. We just thought they should be themselves! Without any commitment to any doctrine.

Sure. It was just an issue that ONE chose not to touch.

Yeah, that’s right! That’s right. So I think I was probably over-stressing the numbers simply to try to get Brad [Mulroy] to, as a New Yorkian who hadn’t been in on it, a young man coming to […], a feeling for the size and the electricity that Mattachine had produced. And which was just unbelievable to those of us who witnessed it.

Sure. Oh yeah.

The Four Horsemen

Why do you think there’s still so much societal resistance to an idea like “Gay is Good?” This many years into the movement?

When… Goodness. My first […]. To answer that, you would need to come and attend several of our different courses. We’ll work for a few semesters along with you on that. [Laughs.] From the very start, almost, we spoke of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the enemy. And which were the legal, the church,…

Psychiatry?

…the social, and the scientific. And we didn’t know which was the most vicious. And that hasn’t changed. Or it has changed not enough.

Right.

How would you have [Rush] Limbaugh today being re-hired by the Florida Citrus Commission if it had changed? It’s just Anita Bryant all over again.

That, I think, is one of the most foolish decisions I’ve ever heard. They could have gone out and literally shot themselves in the foot and done themselves less damage.

It isn’t foolish. It’s what they believe! And they still believe. No, it’s just the problem is bigger and longer than people estimate. And we have long since come to terms with the idea there are not going to be enthusiastic multitudes. You’re going to, you’re going to hopefully undermine, and put some time bombs in various places which may soak through, and have some effect someday, but heaven knows. This far into the movement.

Of those “four horsemen,” which one do you think the movement as a whole has been most effective in changing, if any?

Possibly religion. Because things have happened in religion that I never expected I would ever see. I never — in fact, I have loudly proclaimed that one thing you could depend on, the Jews would never give way. You know, here we have temples all over the place. I just couldn’t believe they would be able to adapt.

Certainly, technically, there have been legal changes. And there have been quite a few developments very currently, contemporaneously, in the scientific field. And I would think there’s been a lot happening there, far more than — look at the uproar over Clinton and the army.

Bill Clinton and DADT

Yes.

It’s— that is as bad as ever, as far as I can see.

Yes. And just very frustrating to me. Had I been Clinton, and had I said what he said, rather than allowing this six-month period for people to adjust, I would have just said, day one, “Here it is. And now we’re going to start dealing with it.” He was — I think his intentions were good. He wanted to play both sides, and he wound up — I mean, he shot himself in the foot too.

Right.

And nobody got anything.

He was what many people have saipolitically inexperienced.

Which is hard to believe. You don’t usually get to be President by being politically inexperienced.

You do if you’re from Little Rock, Arkansas.

[Laughs]

Or if you listen to the nightly news on Whitewater, how they have, just could not conceive that Little Rock and Washington are as different as the two places are. And it’s a different scene. A different scene. Sure he should have done that! But he didn’t.

Yes.

He just thought that he was capable of handling it.

Well, I think also, my feeling, his psychological nature is that of a conciliator.

Yes.

He doesn’t want to shove something down somebody else’s throat. He wanted everybody to, you know, to sort of lock arms, and we’ll all see things the same way, and it’s really…

Well, you see, in that sense, that’s what Chuck Rowland was talking about. He was just sure it would happen. And it doesn’t. And so, you know, it’s just been…social change is a very, very slow piece of glacier.

Right, right.

The Daughters of Bilitis

What else did I have here? How about, you were talking about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. What do you think are their particular— I mean, obviously, I’ve read their material, so I have an idea, but I’m curious of your thoughts. What, you know, what are their particular highlights, if you will?

Well, I think they were very important for many years, no I question about it. And we’ve been friendly with them off and on — I won’t say off and on, but friendly all of the time. But I’ve 1 already told you, in 1961, they, among others, claimed, and moved,  made it an official proclamation off a scroll, to dissolve the meeting, and not hold it!

Phyllis and Del didn’t make the proclamation. There was the then-president, a very bright young woman, and finally…and I was chairing, and I said, “Well, thank you for your view. But there are people who have come here. The meetings have been announced. People are coming here for a four- day conference. And they’ve come from various parts of the country. And the meetings will proceed. And you’re very welcome to stay, if you wish to. And if you feel you can’t, why, we will understand.”

Do you think that they really felt, at that time, that the group of people that were assembled from all over were going to listen to them and say, “Oh, okay, we won’t do this”? Or it was just their way of trying to make a statement? Which seems more likely to me.

No, they were very serious.

[End of Tape 2, Side B]

[Start of Tape 3, Side A]

The Daughters of Bilitis, cont.

[…] They were getting in on it, too. But no, they were very, very …And so, since that time, we’ve just agreed to disagree. I asked them to do a—I thought I would like to have for my book 1, on the jacket, a statement from the women. And I’ve known them so long, and I asked them if they would. They refused.

Really! Well, that’s interesting. And you’re still on good terms with them, and for some reason they just chose not to?

Yeah. Oh, no, no. They made it very clear: it was too male-oriented.

Oh, the book was?

Well, their view is, that women, by and large, or certainly a great, great many of them, feel that men—homosexuality is not acceptable anyhow, so it’s just a—they can’t really empathize with it. Is what I’m saying.

What, men’s homosexuality, you mean?

Yeah. Mm-hm. It’s a—that’s putting it broadly, but they… The fact that I would write and put together a nearly 500-page book, and certainly mentioning them where it was possible through there,…

Right.

And how the very first out-of-town meetings we ever held were sponsored by the Daughters of Bilitis . . . But still, they wouldn’t put their names on it, because women would feel they were getting too male-oriented. That was more or less what they told the publisher.

Does that sort of go along with the issue that I’ve read that there was a point during, say, the ’60s, where a lot of lesbians felt sort of split in terms of, do I identify with the gay movement or do I identify with the women’s movement, and there was kind of that lack of integration, and that so many, including Del and Phyllis, decided to head off towards the women’s movement because they felt that their needs weren’t being addressed?

Oh, yes. I think so. And…

Did the men take that seriously? And try to adapt, and it just wasn’t good enough for them?

No. Well, I don’t know. I certainly can’t speak for everybody. Or even report for everybody. I can simply say that men felt, as I did at that meeting, that we are going to go through with this. We would like to have you go with us, but if you choose not to, we certainly—you’re free to do as you see.

Right.

And so it wasn’t a question of running around trying to convince the women…

That this was in everyone’s best interest?

Yes. It’s just that we had work to do, and we would have to do it. And if they wanted to go along, great. And of course, after a matter of years, the women are beginning to come back and become much more active in the movement. Which is natural. How in the world can you have half the population standing in a corner?

Right.

And not even seeing you. We just felt it was politically inept, you know, you’re cutting off your political . . . Muscle that you need. I mean, everybody who’s interested in the problems express concern, be willing to work with that. So…

Do you think the movement to date has been a success or a failure? And why?

My goodness. I have no idea. I have no idea. I think some parts of it have obviously been more successful than others. I myself am very turned off by what I’ve called the commercialization movement, in which you have the great Elizabeth Taylor affairs, meetings here and meetings there, and people smiling and bowing and then you don’t know what they’re doing afterwards. And so, people are willing to, in my experience, foster that for the smiles and the larger public. That, I don’t like to see at all. We have at least two groups here in L.A. which now have several million dollar a year budgets. Well, we certainly don’t.

Right.

So—now, many feel they are doing something important. You know. More power to them. That’s up to them. Though I wouldn’t want to really comment at all, on the success or failure of the movement. I don’t think you could define it. You know.

Sure.

On the Future of the Movement

Where do you think the movement is likely to go in the near future? What issues do you think are going to come to the fore, continue to be at the fore?

Martin Block, who was one of our founding members, spoke for us on tape in one of our Sunday lectures recently. And he was very gloomy. And he said, “I hate to say it. But I’m afraid that we’re approaching bad times.” And I think […] that society swings the pendulum one way and another, and that we may be headed towards a period of greater restrictions, and greater opposition, and so on, than we dreamed, than we realize.

Do you think that people are going to go back into closets?

Yes and no. I think that they may be forced in. I think that it’s entirely conceivable—who would have believed that England [under] Cromwell should become a nation in which people didn’t dare open their mouths, unless they were politically correct? And so that could happen. I don’t say it’s going to, I just don’t think—don’t bank on, that you get the door wide open and that it eventually stays open.

It takes a lot more work than that.

And I think that there are dangers, all up and down the line, and there always have been. And don’t think they’ve gone away.

I think that that’s a big mistake that a lot of younger people make, is that, gee, we’ve done all this work, there’s no way the door could ever be closed, and all you have to do is look at Nazi Germany in the ’30s…

Very correct.

…if you’d like to see an example of how that can be done. Which tells you that you need to, you know, remain vigilant.

Christopher Isherwood, who was one of our directors, during his life, a wonderful director, stood in front of the Hirschfeld Institute in 1933, or whatever year it was, and saw the Hirschfeld Library brought out into the square and burned, and he stood there, and saw it. From one of the most sophisticated countries. So don’t bank on anything, really. You just have to take things as they go. Do what you can.

Right. Do you think that it’s easier or harder now to be gay than when you came out?

Well. The situations are so different. There wasn’t any movement to be in! People have known for generations, despite the social constructionists, who and what they were. But they had no institutional settings, or very limited. So I don’t think you can really compare them. I have written that in 1928, after I graduated from school and went to New York for, to live there, and work professionally, that the theater in New York was perhaps more open than it is today.

In the twenties?

In that there were, New York had hundreds of plays running. And many of them— it was just a sort of a tacit undercurrent that was just taken for granted. In the theater, particularly. So that—well, Mae West was performing, and she was getting arrested.

Oh, yes.

And there were, there was Eva Le Galliene, at her theater in the Village, in New York, which everybody knew who she was, and knew her, who her current lover was. Who was featured in the plays, and so on. And people just took. You know, it was, it was not codified or spelled out. It just was part of the scene.

Right.

And, so that you would have—I remember, for a couple of years when I was in New York, Gilbert and Sullivan ran continuously the year around. Well, they were just simply camp performances, pure and simple! And packed the place.

One of them was gay, right?

Hm?

One of them was gay?

Who, of the two of those?

Gilbert and Sullivan.

Yes. Mm-hm. Gilbert. Gilbert was. Or was believed to have been.

Right. What’s your date of birth?

Hm?

Your date of birth?

1904.

1904. [Pause] Do you feel it was a mistake for the homophile movement to be subsumed by the gay liberation movement? How do you think things would have grown had the homophile movement . . .

Well, I don’t know. Really, in the years since we’ve been going, we hardly ask such questions. Or even care.

Uh-huh.

We just feel that we have now sort of charted out the things that we are interested in doing, and that we feel capable of doing, and that what other people do, let them do it.

So, in other words, it didn’t directly affect…

No, no.

…your work. Which again is the same focus thing we were talking about earlier.

We’ve been through I don’t know how many presidents, I don’t know how many governors, I don’t know how many chiefs of police. And none of this changed our work in any way. We have just got—gone ahead and done our thing. And, like our Supreme Court case. They tried to wipe us out, but they didn’t.

Right.

But we didn’t do that—really, even at the time it was going on, we didn’t have the vaguest idea that we were going to be giving up anything. There was no such intention at all.

And you didn’t.

And, perhaps one of the fundamental points of difference between the various parts of the movement and ourselves is that we just felt that we are working with what is obviously a lot of people. Now, what you can do with and for them is limited. But, but you certainly didn’t have to be concerned with whether—who was in government, who was out, what theories were popular now and what theories were unpopular. We couldn’t care less! We’re going to work along, and do what we can, for what we feel are important. Of course, that’s one point that I myself have found totally distasteful in Europe. They can’t seem to do anything over there unless they place themselves in a sort of…

In relation to the government?

You know, “I do hereby swear that I am such and such.” You know. Otherwise they don’t have an identity! The people over there, in so much of Europe, are permitted to a theory of some kind—again, can you work without a theory? And that I find very disturbing. But they find us disturbing. So, fine.

It’s all in the mind.

Wrapping Up

Anything I haven’t asked that I should?

I don’t know.

[Laughs]

You showed a lot of—I still have no idea about your book. But time will tell.

Sure. I’ll be happy to send you—I can either send you on disk, or I can send you a transcript, if you like. I’ll obviously transcribe all of this.

I’d love it.

Sure. Be happy to. Do you have WordPerfect?

Well, all we have—I know nothing about those things. You’ll have to talk to Johnny, who’s out there. He can tell you what we have. We have several computers around here. I can’t even typewrite! I just have no such skills whatever.

It’s just that it’s cheaper to send the disk than to make a 60-page document. Which I would do, obviously.

Just ask him what one is compatible. We have several machines. We have one machine with the whole system set up just for the library. Then we have others. And I don’t know a thing about them.

Would you have access, maybe, to the addresses for a couple of people that I’d like to talk to?

Sure.

Might you have an address for Dale Jennings?

Oh, no. Dale is unreachable.

Oh, really?

Yeah. I have seen him once in thirty years.

Goodness!

And that was just recently. Don Slater brought him here one afternoon. We spent an hour. I wouldn’t have recognized him. Wouldn’t have known I’d ever seen him.

Mercy. So he is still around.

He’s around. And the only person who, if he will do it, has any contact with Dale, as far as I know, is Don.

Would you have an address for Gerry Brissette?

No. Oh no.

OK. I’ll get that from Hal. If anybody.

[…]

OK. How about Lisa Ben?

Oh, she’s around. She’s around. Are you going to be seeing Phyllis and Del, or…

I hope to. They were not going to be available when I go up in may, but I may make a second trip up to San Francisco this year.

D. They would know.

Okay. And I’ll see if Morris [Kight] has it also.

He may. He may.

He said that she lived, I  mean, almost as if ti was within walking distance.

I don’t know where she lives. I know that we have seen her within the past few years.

Well, of course, I have lots of other things, but I think we can probably go ahead and leave it at that for the time being.

Yeah.

I very much appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Well, I hope […]. We’ll ask Johnny what about computers.

Sure.

If he’s out there, I don’t know. Maybe he’s gone home.

And then, also, how about a copy of that one article that we were talking about, the “I’m Glad I’m Homosexual”? Would you be able to put your hands on a copy of that?

I don’t know that I can.

OK.

I’ll ask…

[End of Tape 3, Side A]


Leading the Parade

Paul Cain’s chapter on W. Dorr Legg can be found in Leading the Parade: Conversations with America’s Most Influential Lesbian and Gay Men, published by Scarecrow Press in 2002. A paperback version was released in May of 2007.

A chapter on Legg, by Wayne Dynes,  can also be found in Vern L. Bullough’s Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historic Contexts.

©2016 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved. No portion of this interview should be reprinted without permission.

Please contact us at social@tangentroup.org to report errors or omissions.


Notes:

  1. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice

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