by Charles L. Lucas
a gay rights pioneer remembered by his friends
©1997 by Homosexual Information Center, Inc.
Jim Schneider, Chairman
Second Printing, revised
Assembled, edited, and composed by Joseph Hansen
Laguna Beach, CA
I first met Don Slater at artist Rachel Rosenthal’s house up in Laurel Canyon. Don was with Dorr Legg. They discussed their new magazine ONE. The first homosexual magazine I was aware of. The two gentlemen were most circumspect. They wore poplin suits and ties. Wingtip shoes. And for all I knew, could have been brothers.
I was about to go to Mexico for a series of what turned out to be very fascinating jobs. So…fifteen years later, having worked in magazine publication, for Variety as a stringer, then as a TV co-ordinating producer, university professor, and tutor to a cabinet officer, I returned from Mexico.
Here, a friend thought I would be ideal to write about the sexual revolution that seemed to have swept the country. I was happy to keep body and soul together in such a fashion. I sought interviews with—as my publishers insisted—“with them.” Dorr Legg merely explained that ONE, Inc. and Don Slater were no longer associated. And so at the offices of HIC, on Cahuenga Boulevard, I met Don Slater for a second time.
And a cooler reception I’ve never had. Present were Billy Glover, Bill [David] Kennedy, and a couple of silent types, along with Don, who presided with a rather humorous air of condescension. I explained that I had been asked to do a book on Troy Perry and his church. They all thought this was quite a hoot. But I was going to have to do the book relying on other interviews, and on my fertile imagination. I called Don and his associates, the Happy Warriors.
I bumped into Don again when I was interviewing Evelyn Hooker. But real contact with him wasn’t established until Susan Howe, in her own naive way, gave donations to HIC in the names of people who served on the crisis intervention committee of MCC, Troy Perry’s church. It seems that Don had ridiculed Troy in print, and Troy chose to ignore it.
When the book [The Lord is My Shepherd and He knows I’m Gay] was published, I gave Don copies for the HIC library, and invited him to the publication party. But neither he nor Troy Perry came. Still, the Happy Warriors warmed to me, and I made a couple of small donations on my own to their organization. Don asked me to lunch on occasion. I wrote book reviews for his newsletter, and later some articles. Don invited me to join his board of directors, and I did.
In short order, I had persuaded Don that we should have a luncheon for the various gay libraries. We did this, at the old Roosevelt Hotel Cine Grill. Present were Don, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner [who housed his own extensive archives in a store-front on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood], Morris Kight, I think Vern Bullough, and I. We spoke of pooling resources for space, sharing research materials, establishing a circulating system, and a common card catalog. It was a happy love feast, and we parted with our good intentions intact. End of story. A week later, Don said of the luncheon, “I’ve changed my mind.” And so it went.
When the next year I was elected Chairman of the Board, I arranged with Betty Mauchlin, a grants person, to apply for a grant from the Dept. of Health. We thought that this would be in the grand tradition of Evelyn Hooker. And so it was. We also stood by to make other grant applications. I took the papers with their instructions to the next board meeting, and parceled out the work. The looks I got were all frozen. Fine, if Betty and I did it. Otherwise, no dice. I had a couple of other jobs, working at a talent agency and in my “spare time” reading scripts for Swifty Lazaar, while Betty was seeking a new and better position than the one she held at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. We didn’t have the time to pull the whole grant idea together. So the project was dropped.
Don’s heart problems and mine started at about the same time, and we often compared notes about the misery of it all. He resisted taking his medication and flatly refused to give up cigars. “A woman is only a woman,” he would quote Kipling, “but a good cigar is a smoke.” Still, I kept after him to take his health seriously.
When, a few years later, Betty Mauchlin took her own life, she had willed some things to me, which I intended to give to HIC, but her will was ignored. I had to sue the County to get cash value for the car she had willed me, and the repayment of some monetary loans. Don was a pillar of strength to me at that time. He wrote letters to the Times. I wrote “Dear Sir or Madam” letters to the Board of Supervisors. To help us through this time, Don and I ate lunch at the Brite Spot restaurant and drank cheap champagne. Just what the doctor ordered.
One night in 1983, I got a call from Don. His voice sounded so strange I couldn’t recognize it. It was a plea for help. I drove to the HIC office on Hollywood Boulevard, and let myself in with my key. Don was a terrible sight. His shirt was torn, but his trousers, socks, and shoes were nowhere. His car, an old Buick sedan, was not in the lot. Don had been severely mugged. He bled from his smashed nose and swollen mouth, and I was afraid blood would start from his swollen black eyes.
But he wouldn’t let me call 911. So I wrapped him in a blanket, and somehow managed to haul him down the back fire-escape and put him into my car. I drove first to the Hollywood Presbyterian hospital, and he refused treatment. Ditto Queen of Angels, and St. Vincent. I took him home, roused Rudi Steinert, who had a key to Don’s house, and we got Don inside. Rudy tried to dial 911 but Don stopped him. I rang up Susan Howe, because I thought she might have some influence on Don, but when she dialed 911 Don again shouted “No!” and she hung up.
Finally Tony [Reyes] came home, and was able to persuade Don to let himself be taken to Queen of Angels. From there he was transferred to L.A. County-USC Medical Center. He was there for some time. But by a miracle of tough, animal strength, he pulled through. His mugger was never found, nor Don’s car, briefcase, or money, either.
In early December of 1996, I got a frantic phone call from Don. He described symptoms that I knew could only mean a major heart attack. I told him to get to a hospital at once. How soon he followed my advice I can’t say, but when I heard from him again, he was in the VA hospital in west L.A. Tony reported on his condition to me from there, and I went to see Don, and found him failing rapidly, pale, weak, thin, his ankles swollen. I took Tony out there to see him, whenever I could.
On the afternoon of 14 February, 1997, I phoned Don in the hospital. We had a nice chat. He asked me to assure the medical team that he would co-operate fully. I did so. That evening Tony called to say the hospital had alerted him that Don was expiring. Jim Schneider was driving Tony there at once. They arrived at Don’s room at 10:15, but Don had died while they were on the way.
©1997, 2017 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
The HIC is grateful to Stephen Brzoska for his help in digitizing this text.