What was the most traumatic day of your life?
The most traumatic day of my life was my big argument with my parents at the dinner table. Well, anyway, that—you have that.
What was the most exhilarating day of your life?
Well, when I was dancing with Helen at her house, when I was fourteen. That was exhilarating to me. And I have never known anything since to equal it, although I’ve had a lot of adventures and things, but I don’t know—if I could go back and live that one day over and over, by golly, I would! [Laughs]
I’ll bet, I’ll bet. Who has the best personal relationship in your life been with? Is there anyone who stands out?
Isn’t that funny—I can’t think. I’ve had a lot of friends, but I haven’t been really close with anyone—even the gal I lived with for three years. I can’t think of anyone that is—I’m such a loner. I mean, I’m alone, but I’m not lonely. It’s a funny thing.
Right, and there is a very definite distinction between the two. Okay. What role, if any, does religion or spirituality play in your life?
Not a darn thing, because I was forced to go to church with my mother, and I resented that tremendously. For a while, when I got to talking to some of the science fiction crowd, a lot of them were atheists, or agnostics.
They’re having an atheist convention at the Beverly Garland where we’re staying.
Oh, do they? [Laughs] Well, I don’t know as I’m an atheist any more, but I’m sort of an agnostic. I don’t—I can’t believe in the traditional Bible thing.
Don’t you think though—and I’m guessing, because I don’t know you that well—but don’t you think your form or your brand of spirituality comes out with animals, and the cats?
Yes, yes—very much, very much.
That’s what I would think.
I’m spiritual with nature and the animals, but I don’t bend down on my knee and pray. And I’ve had a lot of hard times, but I’ve never bent down on my knee and said, “Please, God, if you’ll make it better, I promise I won’t swear any more, or I promise I won‘t do this or that.” I’ve never been that way.
Right; I can understand. How do you feel about ageism within the gay and lesbian community?
Well, there’s a group that I have met with called OLOC, and they’re very much against these greeting cards and things that make fun of old people. And I think, if you look around enough, you’re going to find various kinds of people being made fun of—babies, children, relatives, old people. If you carry a chip on your shoulder, it’s always going to, you know. Since I’ve gotten older, I have kind of distanced myself from the social gay life, not because I’m old but because I don’t feel the urge any more, you know—I’ve got what I want. I have a small home—it’s not much. I have shelter. I have enough money to buy myself some good food, and I really don’t care about my appearance any more. I don’t have to, because I don’t have to go to parties anymore, and it’s such a darn relief not to think, “Oh, dear, now I have to take a bath, and do my hair up, and what have I got to wear, and I have to drive out to Cucamonga to this party.” I mean, to me, it‘s a relief not to have to do that. When I was young, it was fun! But now, it’s a big bother.
[Laughs] Sure, sure. And you can choose to live your life your own way, and do what pleases you.
And the younger people today are so different from the way I was—they put up with a lot of things that I don’t really—I won’t say approve of, but I really wouldn’t get into it, like bisexualism, and drug-taking and all that stuff, and I don’t care for it, and why should I make an alliance with something like that?
Did you see any problems—did people have problems with alcoholism when you would go to the bars in the ’40s and ’50s?
Oh, yes! Some of the people that I even went with were alcoholics. And in fact, one older woman that I just fell deeply in love with—she owned her own home, and she wasn’t a secretary—she was something else, and I thought, boy, is she really on the ball, you know—I mean, this is somebody to really admire, and she frankly told me she was a member of AA. I never saw her drunk, but she always said she wanted—she always had to have a drink. And this didn’t matter to me at the time because I didn’t realize how serious alcoholism could be. I didn’t know my father was a drinker, either. My mother never told me. So for a long time, I was deeply, madly in love with her, although she didn’t return it because there was too much of a difference in our ages. I was 29 and she was 51 at the time, I think, but that wouldn’t matter to me. I mean, I thought she was great! [Laughs]
That’s never mattered to me, either.
So, yes, I remember going to a party with one girl that got stupidly drunk at the party, and she couldn’t drive her car home, and I didn’t know how to drive her car home because it was a stick shift, so somebody else drove her home, and she got sick at the party, which embarrassed me to tears. She was a gorgeous, gorgeous girl, my God—if I showed you a picture of her now, you’d think so too, even though you’re a gay man.
Oh, yes—I can appreciate a little female beauty.
She was a hell of a lover—golly, she was great, and I enjoyed being with her and all that, but she just couldn’t leave the booze alone. And then some people that I roomed with for a while, one of the girls there was a terrible drunk. I wasn’t interested in her. She was a drinker, and I understand she moved back where she came from and died of alcoholism. There was an awful lot of that when I was growing up—not growing up, but when I was—
Involved in the life, if you will.
And being sociable. But everyone that I ran around with smoked cigarettes, and everyone drank beer.
That’s the reason I mentioned it, because I think substance abuse has been with us for many years—it’s just a case of different forms.
I don’t cotton to any of that either, but—
I never care about smoking. I tried it, but I didn’t like the taste of it, and I didn’t like the way it made my clothes smell, so I just didn’t smoke. But everybody else did, and I didn’t care whether they did or not, you know. I’d go to a gay bar, and you could—you needed a fan to breathe!—but it didn’t bother me. And as far as beer—when I went to gay bars, I always drank something non-alcoholic, because I thought, if they raid the place, I don’t want to be so stupid drunk that I don’t know what I’m doing, so I would order a 7-Up or something, you know. It wasn’t that I thought I was better than everybody else, and nobody tried to force it on me, either—they thought, well, if you like that, that’s—
Everybody was live and let live—they didn’t try to turn me on to booze. And I’ve been drunk a couple of times in my life, I’ll admit, but not at the gay bars, and not at the gay parties. But I thought, well, gee, this is no fun. I’d throw up in the sink, and I’d feel sick to my stomach, and I’d wake up in the morning and I don’t feel good, so what’s the fun about this?
What’s the point? [Laughs]
Yeah, what’s the point? So I just didn’t do it.
On Gay Marriage and “Queer”
How do you feel about gay marriage?
What do you mean? Girls with girls and boys with boys?
I guess I mean in terms of people having ceremonies and that sort of thing—memorializing their relationship.
Oh—oh! Well, if it makes them feel happy and more secure, go for it, you know.
Have you ever been to a gay wedding?
No, I haven’t. I’ve been to a wedding where a gay gal married a gay guy because if he hadn’t been married, he wouldn’t get an inheritance, or some sort of thing like that. So I went to the church, and I observed all this gay wedding stuff. And at the end of the wedding, well, he went off with his boyfriend and she went off with her girlfriend, and I thought, well, I really—
[Laughs] That’s a different kind of wedding.
I wouldn’t want to do that myself, but if he had to do that for family reasons, I could understand it. But I didn’t clap hands and think, “Oh, isn’t that marvelous!” either. You know, it was just one of those things.
Sure. How do you feel about the word “queer” to describe the gay and lesbian community?
Well, if they want to use it, it’s OK by me. I don’t use it, but I grew up in a different era. But I’m not shocked by it. If they want to use it to kind of water it down so that it doesn’t seem so offensive—if they think that’s going to do it, I don’t care.
Do you think it’s easier or harder to be gay now than when you came out?
Well, it’s got its pros and cons. Did I ever send you my poem “Nostalgia”? The last two lines of that poem—I can’t quote exactly, but, “In the old days, there was the closet and harassment and fear, and today, closets are wide open, but there’s AIDS.” And my poem said I would rather live in the past in the old days without the drug scene and AIDS. I don’t write a heck of a lot of poetry, but when I do, they’re there. And I don’t know how I do it—it’s just—it comes through to me, and then I write it down, and it’s almost as if it’s being dictated to me.
I don’t hear voices or anything like that—I know it’s my poem, but it’s auto…I don’t want to say automatic, because that sounds like I don’t like writing, and that’s not what I mean.
It sounds more like you’re the conduit.
That’s right. And anyway, I think that each era has its drawbacks. And I’m awfully glad my era didn’t have the drug scene. And AIDS. Because I did an awful lot of running around in those days, and I could have picked it up so easy.
I think it’s pretty obvious you’ll be remembered for Vice-Versa — what would you like to be remembered for?
My poetry, and Vice-Versa.
Okay. What do people not know about you that you wish they did?
Cohorts and Comrades
All right. What I’ve been doing with folks so far is I usually start by talking about some of the people that I can see that they’ve interacted with in the movement, kind of getting your impressions, first thoughts, anything like that, and then we kind of move on a little bit more to more of your stuff. And the first person that I had on the list was Dorr Legg.
Oh, Dorr Legg. He passed away. Well, I remember ONE, but I never was really close with Dorr Legg, and I never belonged to ONE. So I know who he is, and he knew who I was, but that was about it.
How about Ann Carll Reid and Eve Elloree, known as Corky and Joan?
Oh, yeah! Corky and Joan! I didn’t know they went by other names! [Laughs] Yes, I knew them back in ’48 or ’49. And one of them—I’ve forgotten which one—liked to draw, and she was very good at it. I think that was Joan.
That was Joan.
Joan, yes. And we were friends. We went back and forth slightly, but we weren’t close, you know, because I think they lived in a different town or something at that time. And I remember Corky—she was a dear, elfin, little girl, real cute. And as I say, we were just sort of casual friends. I think I gave them copies of my Vice Versa, as I recall, but that was about all. I don’t have any interesting anecdotes to tell you about all the friendship.
That’s fine. OK. Jim Kepner?
Oh, yeah, well, Jim Kepner I knew when I first came down to Los Angeles. And, of course, I didn’t know he was gay at all. The way I met him was through the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society.
Now it makes sense—of course! Yes.
And I knew him slightly as I knew all the other members, and it was not a gay organization. I didn’t know what gay was in those days. I knew that I liked girls, but I didn’t know there were any societies or anything. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there were.
Not at that time.
So that’s how I met Jim, and only later did I get things through the mail, things that showed that he was gay. Then he knew I was. But he was so busy with his projects and everything that we didn’t…
He’s been over to my house once, and interviewed me for something or other—I can’t remember what—I think they had a big hoopla in one of the hotels here—Universal City. And for some reason or another, he had to ask me some questions, and that was about 10 years ago. But I see him every once in a while, and I went over when he had his archives in Hollywood. I went over there one time and gave a little talk, among other people who gave talks. But we haven’t really been close either.
Absolutely. In Del and Phyllis’ book Lesbian/Woman, it mentions your work in the field of science fiction. You touched on that a bit, but let’s talk about that a little bit more.
I didn’t work in science fiction.
You didn’t write any stories…
No. Well, I may have contributed an article or book review or something like that to one of the science fiction homemade magazines, but I wouldn’t call that that I was a writer of science fiction.
That’s interesting, because something that I read said that you had made a minor name for yourself in science fiction.
No, no, no—I read that, too, and I thought, oh, baloney! I loved…I joined that group not for science fiction so much as for horror stories and fantasy. I liked the ghost stories and things like that, and there were a lot of people in that that read those things, so I joined the group when I first came down here. Science fiction was OK, but it wasn’t my pet love. And I definitely was not a minor star of science fiction or something. Whoever got hold of that…
That’s why I like to check my facts with people, just to make sure.
Yeah. No, debunk it, because I wasn’t. I just enjoyed being with the group. I went to the meetings every week. I was their secretary for a while, and there were mainly guys that belonged to it because not very many girls liked horror stories and fantasy. But that didn’t bother me—I enjoyed the group. Some of the guys were kind of rough and raunchy, but—
Did you meet other gay and lesbian people there other than Jim Kepner?
No. Not that I knew of.
I found—I learned one other guy was sort of bi or something, but I was not actively gay at that time anyway, so I don’t think they got too much about me either. I didn’t join that group for that reason.
It was just a happy coincidence.
It was just—Yeah.
Did you know Harry Hay?
I know who he is, but I don’t know him; I never had any interaction with him in a gay way.
Sure—I was just curious. How about Donald Webster Cory? Did you know him?
No. I know he’s an author, and I read his book a long time ago.
I talked to a lot of people who The Homosexual in America influenced a lot. You came out so much earlier, though—I can’t imagine it would have had the same kind of influence for you.
No. Well, I really didn’t come out. I was very cautious in those days; everybody was.
Don Slater? Did you know him?
Name is familiar, but—
He was also involved with ONE. OK. I’m just throwing out some names of people that I saw that you interacted with, and I wondered. Dale Jennings?
No, I don’t know that name, and you’ve written about him and written about coming down here to interview him—
I just talked to him on the phone before I came here.
Is he an author?
Well, what he was known for was a particular trial back in about 1952—his was one of the first morals trials that Mattachine Society fought and won. He was one of the original members of the Mattachine.
How about Chuck Rowland?
I know who he is, but I don’t—I wasn’t—
That’s fine. Barbara Gittings. Do you remember Barbara?
Oh yes! Now let’s see—Barbara Gittings—
She was from back in Philadelphia—
Is she the one with the wavy hair and the glasses?
Yeah, I knew her. She came out here for a Daughters of Bilitis Convention. As a matter of fact, I think she was one of the gals that brought her bedroll and slept in my little house.
That sounds like Barbara. When I spoke to her last summer, she mentioned that she had met you, and one of the things that she mentioned was that you sang with the Sweet Adelines, and she had never heard of the organization before.
Oh, well, that was something I belonged—I joined because I wanted to join some groups that were not gay at one time, and I joined them. They were a bunch of housewives that sang.
And I finally got bored with the whole situation, because I didn’t care for the barbershop songs that much, and you know. I sang with them for a while, but it was too much meeting at night, and this, that, and the other, and then you had to fix your own costumes, and I don’t sew. I just said, “Oh, to heck with it.” Forget the Sweet Adelines because it’s just a—it’s an outside organization that would have nothing to do with what you’re writing about.
Right, right. That’s fine. How about Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon?
Oh, yeah, they’re long-time friends. And when I was last up in northern California, they met me, and they took me to—on a whirlwind round tour of San Francisco, and up Chinatown. But we never stopped very much of anywhere. This was a disappointment, because I wish I could have, and they didn’t ask me to their home because they were so busy driving around, and I would much rather have sat down and had a good chat with them. Don’t quote me on that because they were very, very nice to me. They took me to lunch at Sausalito, and they took me to Golden Gate Park at the Japanese Garden, where we did stop and we had tea. And they just—they took me to Coit Tower, and it was a marvelous, marvelous trip. It was a lot of driving for Phyllis. And I will always remember that wonderful tour because it was—it was—I was born in San Francisco, but I hadn’t been up there for years and years, and—[cat walks up]—hi! This is Copy Cat. They call him Copy Cat because he sits on the copy machine—
Anyway, I’ve known them for years, and they’re marvelous gals, both of them—I love them dearly.
I had a lot of fun interviewing them in January.
Did you go up to their house?
Yeah, uh-huh. We did about eight hours, as a matter of fact—long, long interview.
Did you meet their cats?
Koala and—Ernest—not Ernestine—Koala and uh—boy, I can’t think of the other cat’s name. I’ve never met them, but we talk about them.
[Laughs] Like having children. We know—we have our two. Well, I think that about wraps it up—is there anything that I didn’t ask you that I should have?
I don’t think so.
I have so much about Vice-Versa that I got from other places and things like that—that’s why I didn’t concentrate so much on that, I wanted to concentrate more on you and your life. Do you think we’ve pretty well covered everything, then?
Yeah. I would like to have—although I don’t do this anymore—I would like them to remember me, too, for my guitar playing and singing of parodies, but I don’t do that any more—I had to stop.
See also A Historic Project of Edythe Eyde, courtesy the JD Doyle Collection. Image of Eyde from 1996 published by OUT magazine.
Paul Cain’s chapter on Edythe Eyde 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 Eyde can also be found in Vern L. Bullough’s Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historic Contexts.
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