Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

“Behind the Mask of the Mattachine,” reviewed by Billy Glover

Behind the MaskBehind the Mask of the Mattachine:
The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation

by James T. Sears

Published by Harrington Park Press

Published November 1, 2006
Nonfiction: LGBT history
586 pages, index

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Review by Billy Glover

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Hal Call is one of the few people who was harmed by society for his homosexuality and did something about it. How he went about it is the part that is questionable.

Of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been arrested, lost their job, or been kicked out of their homes because they are homosexual, not many have done anything to stop this evil. So those who did not and have not to ignore the few of us who have are as wrong as the anti-gay bigots who attack us openly. Sins of omission are as important as sins of commission. And for someone working to change laws and educate the world on homosexuality to be attacked by those he or she is trying to help is evil.

Yet part of the history of Hal Call and the homosexual civil rights movement is sadly about just such behavior.

The book is very good when it is covering the life of Hal Call. His early life is well covered, including his military service, his being publisher of a small town newspaper, moving to a large city to be less vulnerable because of his sexuality and then being arrested in Chicago and moving to San Francisco with a friend, getting involved with the (early) Mattachine (Foundation), his believing that it will not be successful in its work as long as it is a secret organization with ex-or present Communists behind it, and his extreme personal and “professional” acts to take over the organization.

When the author tries to explain Hal’s behavior through psychology, he has trouble, and the flow of the story is hurt. When he tries to say that Call and “his” Mattachine are the most important part of the early history of the cause of homosexuals, he is not convincing to those who were there and know the whole picture. The author/researcher did a great job, however, of reading all the available material, such as hundreds of letters exchanged among the early pioneers, and lists most of them sooner or later — the failure to relate the narrative in chronological order sometimes confuses the reader.

With this said, it should be noted that this reviewer has a conflict of interest. I was there from 1959 on. And while my first activity in he movement was attending the Mattachine Society’s 6th Convention in Denver in September of 1959, having learned of it from Jim Kepner when I first made contact with the movement by going to the offices of ONE, Inc. in Los Angeles after finding ONE magazine on the newsstand, I will admit that I did not always know what was going on elsewhere (or in the back rooms). I stayed with Call for a few weeks and worked in the Mattachine/Pan-Graphic Press offices and wrote my first book review for the Mattachine Review, published I believe in the February 1961 issue.

But I left San Francisco, returned to Los Angeles, volunteered at first with ONE and then became a paid member of the staff, replacing Jim Kepner when he quit the second time. This means that I chose to work with ONE, and so I view the claims for Mattachine with the thought that for every claim made, ONE did the same thing, perhaps earlier and better. The book says more than once that Call worried that ONE was the better magazine. Another issue that only someone like the writer would think about is that there is great irony in the way that Hal Call took over the Mattachine group from the founders — then almost had it taken over by the New York chapter, using the same tactics. And later the same type of internal disagreements came to ONE, Inc. when Dorr Legg used some of the same tactics that he had complained of when Call did them!

In my opinion, Call killed Mattachine, and soon after he stopped publishing the magazine, which he said was the major part of the organization. Dorr Legg tried to kill ONE magazine, which was the major part of ONE, Inc. Call and Don Lucas were Mattachine. Don Slater and Dorr Legg were ONE, Inc. This to me is relevant to the “history” that Sears is trying to tell. And to ignore this makes the book accurate in what it does cover but also inaccurate, since it ignores a major part of the history of the homosexual movement for civil/equal rights. Sears leaves the impression that Mattachine was the most important element in the early days. In actuality, ONE was. Any research would show this.

One reviewer says that Hal “saved” Mattachine and the movement by taking over from the former Communists. Nonsense. ONE, Inc. had already separated from early Mattachine — it was the publication chapter in a sense, just as Call took over Mattachine or kept control of it as he was the publications person. So even if Mattachine had “died,” ONE was already the major player, reaching more people (with the first public publication and with the first major print legal issues won by taking the post office to the U. S. Supreme Court), and it was created by several of the founders of Mattachine — Dale Jennings, Martin Block, and the early members, W. Dorr Legg, Betty Perdue, Don Slater, and Slater’s lover Tony, who had all been to Mattachine meetings.

I wonder if there were people in early Mattachine who were not listed. I was told by Bob Haugen, for intsance, that he was in the East Bay chapter and came to Los Angeles for a convention and had tried to get Call’s takeover stopped. But most of what Haugen told me is covered in the book.

It is interesting that the author seems to think that Hal Call always felt guilty for being homosexual, and he did what he had accused ONE of doing: tried to be “conservative” and thus deceitful in order to promote the cause of homosexuals while living an erotic sexual life in secret (while blaming his mother for this issue). So it seems Call, like many of us, had contradictions in his life and work.

I got the feeling that once Call started losing control of the organization that he and thus this book slowed down. He went from Mattachine to pornography. But he had given most of his life to trying to gain equal rights, and who among us can say he had no right to benefit from his work, and today most of the “leaders” make good salaries for doing only a part of what Hal Call, Don Lucas, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, Don Slater, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Frank Kameny, et al. did for America’s homosexuals.

There is no doubt that these pioneer laid the ground for the great success of the movement today. They all appeared on TV and radio shows, marched, wrote, and spoke and that they did it in an era of hatred (the McCarthy era) may not even be understandable by young people today.

No library should be without this book. No one can speak or write about homosexual history without the information in this book. As I understand it, Hal call’s material is now placed at ONE Institute in Los Angeles (at USC), and he gave donations to the funding arm of ONE, The Institute for the Study of Human Resources (ISHR, which also now controls the name ONE, Inc.)

The question is: Do young homosexual men and women care what others have done to make their lives better? Or that there were only three publications in the early days that had to cover all of the issues?

Thank goodness there are a dozen archives and libraries saving this history so that other scholars can produce histories such as this.