September 19, 2007.
The Advocate celebrated its 40th birthday in West Hollywood last night.
Being the last of the Big Four who started The Advocate back in 1967, I was invited to attend — not by the latest powers that be but by my friend Stuart Timmons, acclaimed author of the tell-all tome, Gay L.A.
The Hollywood Cat Lady (a/k/a Jeanne Barney) was similarly snubbed but invited by Stuart to attend as one of the remaining Founding Fathers/Mothers of the gay press movement. She snubbed back and refused to attend. You don’t go, girl. For anyone old enough to remember, Jeanne used to write the advice column, “Smoke From Jeanne’s Lamp,” for the old Advocate
The heralded event turned out to be a gathering of the truly fab-boo. For being 40 years old, there were very few people in attendance who who were 40 years old or older. But, then, maybe I’m the last of the great gay dinosaurs. After all, I was a mere child of four when I helped produce the early copies of The Advocate in the basement print shop of ABC TV studios. Cough. Cough.
The Advocate has, indeed, come a long way. In fact, it’s come so long a way that Dick Mitch and Bill Rau, the original creators, are probably rolling over in their graves somewhere in the outskirts of Visalia, California. (Note: After their sale of The Advocate to David Goodstein, they bought a ranch outside of Visalia and raised multiplying onions. Really. No joke here.)
After Dick Mitch was arrested in a bar raid and charged with lewd conduct in the late 1960s, he became a fired-up activist and, with his lover Bill Rau and friend Sam Allen, they bought the Pride newsletter and changed the name to The Advocate. Since it was dangerous to be a “pervert” prior to the liberation movement, you didn’t use your real name for fear of reprisals, not only from harassment by the LAPD but the ever-present possibility of losing your day job, family, and friends. Dick Mitch became Dick Michaels, the editor; Bill Rau became Bill Rand; and I became “P. Nutz,” jack of many trades. As many of you know, I provided the so-called “humor” of the early Advocate in a monthly column titled “Mariposa de la Noche” (Butterfly of the Night, aka “moth”). When I look at those columns in my mature years, I shudder. What a flamer I was! (No rebuttals, please).
The defining purpose of the early Advocate was to unite and inform the gay community of what was happening in their closed society. When Goodstein purchased it and took over, it evolved into a glossy fashion/celebrity magazine. Perhaps that is because the mainstream media was now covering gay news, so there was no particular need for a newspaper/magazine which specialized in such previously regularly occurring stories as bar raids, lewd conduct arrests, pro- and anti- legislation in various halls of government, etc. So we became fabulous.
And, last night, the fabulous people turned out for The Advocate’s 40th birthday bash. Mayor Villaraigosa was there; a gay Marine wounded in Iraq was there; Katherine Heigl fresh from her Emmy win for Grey’s Anatomy was there (she’s really beautiful but should eat more!) with her fellow nominee T. R. Knight (who looked much better in person than on the series). The celebrants in attendance were the young and the beautiful: gay young male gym beauties, straight young female beauties in flowing fashion, lesbians dressed to the nines in the latest lesbian gear. This was a long way from 1967. For all my efforts back then, I had become an anachronism. Hmmm… Do I sound pink with envy? (see photo)
The fact that The Advocate had gone from being an advocate for gay rights to a commercial success was evident in the dominating presence of corporate sponsors, from a s representative of Southwest Airlines who addressed the crowd to a shiny Saturn convertible for on-the-move gay couples. Sky Vodka provided the [free] pink “advocate martinis” which helped me keep smiling and hobnobbing with the I’m-more-faboo-than-you crowd.
There were video greetings from a number of celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and a host of others. I guess that is, indeed, progress as the stars of old, such as Liberace, Rock Hudson, Merv Griffin, et al. would never, ever have acknowledged the existence of those of us on the fringe of society back then.
While I stood there and downed one Advocate martini after another, Stuart did what real cocktail partygoers do and worked the crowd. He shook hands with L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa and handed him a business card which read: STUART TIMMONS, HOMO HISTORIAN. That cracked the mayor up, though I’m not sure he understood what it meant. The present editor of The Advocate assured Stuart and me that we “must get together and talk about the early days of The Advocate” … hug, hug, kiss, kiss … “Oh darling, there you are … so good seeing you…” hug, hug, kiss, kiss. It wasn’t actually phony; it’s just what people do at cocktail parties. It’s also why I try to never go to cocktail parties.
As we left the gathering of the truly fabulous, I thought to myself: My job here is done. Let the young and the beautiful take it from here.