1923–Nov. 15, 1997
Interview by Paul D. Cain
Edited by David Hughes
This interview with Jim Kepner was conducted by Paul D. Cain in Los Angeles on January 8, 1994 and posted here on February 10, 2014
- On Morris Kight
- On Jack Baker
- On Prescott Townsend
- On Donald Webster Cory
- On Harry Hay
- On Rudi Gernreich and Harry Hay
- On Chuck Rowland and Bob Hull
- On Dale Jennings
- On Don Slater and Chuck Rowland: Skinflints
- On Hal Call
- On Don Lucas
- On Kenneth Burns
- On Boopsie Rieger
- On Florence Conrad
- “A Heist”
- On Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin
- On Barbara Gittings
- Carl Harding, aka Elver Barker
- On Frank Kameny (and Harry Hay)
- On Ernestine Eckstein and Biracial Relations
- On Helen Sandoz and Stella Rush
- On Guy Strait and Dean Corll
- On Clark Polak
- On Richard Inman
- On Randy Wicker
- On Craig Rodwell
- On Shirley Willer
- On Dick Leitsch
- On Martha Shelley and Lois Hart
- On Morty Manford
- On Carl Wittman
- On Dick Michaels and The Advocate
- On Newton Dieter (and Peggy Stevenson)
- Meditations on the Mattachine: Common Ground
- Taking the Cure: Alfred Gross and George W. Henry
- On Gerber, Boyfrank and McCourt: A Different Plight
- Misbegotten and Momentary: Walt Whitman Guidance Center and Church of One Brotherhood
- More Meditations on the Mattachine
- To Serve or Not to Serve
- On Barhopping
- The C-word
- On Making Waves
- On Making Waves—in L.A.
- IGLA Gems
- Intergenerational Relations
- On Diversity
- On Identities
- On Evelyn Hooker
- On Pursuit and Symposium
On Morris Kight
Let’s talk about Morris [Kight].
After Anita Bryant and the Briggs campaign opened up the movement by bringing out large numbers of middle-class, well-established gays who would have otherwise stayed in the closet. Mullers like Dorr Legg and Don Slater before him [Kight] became very jealous of these newcomers who were daring to come in and join the movement without kissing the Pope’s toes. And some of these people began doing effective things, which he tried to sabotage. He still had a creative streak to him, but it became more destructive than creative, increasingly. And the movement has drawn in waves between being primarily a radical thrust and primarily a sort of establishment or P.R., or image-conscious thrust. And Morris has not been strong on the latter, although at times he has given in to it a bit. He tried his damnedest to sabotage and stop the first March on Washington in ’79, and at the last minute, when he saw it was actually going to happen, he began moving heaven and earth to become one of the, or did I say this already, one of the featured speakers.
One of the keynoters. And the L.A. Committee, about 90 strong, at one of the weekly meetings, voted unanimously—I had arrived late, and the issue was already on the floor, so I didn’t get into it—to threaten a boycott of the March if Morris were a keynoter.
So, he had called and screamed that the Communists were running it, that it would set the movement back, that it was a rip-off, that it wouldn’t work, and so on. And they heard a number of those phone calls, and two of his roommates, who worshiped him, moved out because of that threat.
Sure. Let me go to the top of my list, and we’ll start from there.
On Jack Baker
Jack Baker. [Pause] Whom I know you had some personal correspondence with.
Yeah, I’ve had some correspondence with. Handsome. Vain. Effective—another one who was better than anyone before him with getting on the six o’clock news all over the country. Ahead of Morris [Kight]…
But after [Randy] Wicker.
Yeah. Well, Wicker didn’t hit nationwide.
His was more…
…local New York, but local New York is almost like nationwide.
At least New Yorkers think so. [Laughs] And he [Baker] was a good spokesperson, but again, as soon as other people began taking over the limelight, he became heavily motivated by jealousy.
[Break during dinner]
And the Twin Cities should not be overlooked as a major gay center ever since then [Jack Baker]. Among the gayest towns I’ve seen. But when Senator Allan…
…Spear was essentially in the closet, but otherwise something of a radical, and strongly supporting gay rights, Jack got along with him quite well, as long as Jack carried the essential limelight. But, like Barney Frank, Spear being a politician who has been in office for some time, tends to have a little more respect or concern for what’s feasible politically than what we ultimately want. And I think Barney Frank made an awful mistake during the negotiation period; you don’t give your minimum bid. [Laughs]
On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
And that came close to seeming like treachery, and many in the gay community felt it was that way.
See, now, to me I felt he was just being pragmatic. I didn’t necessarily agree with him, again, in principle, but in terms of what you’re going to get, you know, and not deciding to put Clinton up on the altar and sacrifice him, which is what so many people seem, you know, ready to do. It’s like, well, the man may not be…
You’ll always have the people who are perfectionists, who want heaven-on-a-stick [Laughs] right away. I’m thinking of titling my collection of essays, “What Do We Want? When Do We Want It?” And very quickly getting this somewhat in hand, and saying, “We’re not gonna get it now, we’re not gonna get it all, ever!”
You move in bits and pieces, and that’s what aggravates me so much about people, especially the younger people in this community, who don’t understand that. They just think all the freedoms that we have, you know, we were born with, and we’ve always had them, and, by God, we need to have more, without realizing how far we’ve come. And how it’s come in bits and pieces.
Oh, inconceivable. I marched in three May Day parades in New York, from 1946–48.
Communist-led, they were general labor parades. And twice I turned to someone who was with me, who I knew was gay but we’d never discussed the subject. And I sort of, in that intimate, secretive way, said, “Do you think we could ever do this sort of thing?” Not in ten thousand years. And before they gave that answer, I already knew that answer. And it would have been hard then to believe that in another fifty years I would have marched in, less than fifty years, I would have marched in a few dozen such.
So… but Baker… his brightness, his attractiveness and his competence was such that the later jealousy is a real shame.
Didn’t he more or less drop out of the movement after, like, the mid-’70s? I just can’t find…
He kind of dropped out. His—he still mouths off once in a while. But it tends largely to be negative.
Sad. That seems to happen a lot, and it baffles me. It’s very difficult for me too, because in a lot of ways I consider myself to also be relatively conservative. But it seems the only way to stay on the cutting edge of the movement is that you have to find a way to accommodate to what’s going on. And, you know, I think that’s very difficult.
Leaders make such an investment in the rationales of a particular time on our goals and our strategies that when those change, most of them aren’t able to change with them.
A good example, as far as I’m concerned…
I think Dorr [Legg] would count it as a discredit for me, that I have tended to change largely with the times. Not always as fast as the change comes. I oppose some new things and then, all right, go along with them. I don’t like the term “queer,” I don’t like the concept “Queer Nation”…
You’re reading my mind. I was just going to ask you that.
But if it’s the wave of the future, I guess one has to adjust to it. What I’m hoping is that it’s a temporary term, and it may be almost over.
I’ve adjusted to it more in the last couple of years. When I first heard it, initially, it inflamed me.
Oh, I use the term occasionally, but in a private sort of sense. The same thing would be true for some of the super-conformist groups. They’re doing pretty good work; I wish their viewpoint wasn’t so narrow. But it’s surprising. I am reading…
…Bruce Bower’s book? [Ed.: A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society (1993)]
I’m about halfway through that.
I haven’t gotten to it yet.
And, expecting to dislike it thoroughly, given… I’m surprised at how good it is!
Sure. Like After the Ball [Ed.: By Marshal Kirk and Hunter Madsen, subtitled How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s (1989)], another example of something that, you know…
What I’m also surprised at, is how often, in criticizing the homophobes, which he tackles before he gets to the gay community, he uses […] one argument after another [that] I remember advancing […] sometime in the last ten to forty years, and being really lambasted. “You can’t say that! That’s terrible, what you’re saying!” [Laughs] And where he has simply absorbed a lot of our evolution, and I think he’s totally unaware that it’s part of the movement’s evolution of rationality, of rationalization, and this just seems to him like…
No, it seems to him like, just natural ideas.
Oh, I get what you’re saying.
But which were not natural ideas 10 or 20 or 25 years ago. They were unthinkable ideas among gays, and among gays who were involved in the movement.
Sure. Well, since we haven’t stopped, let me get back to my list.
On Prescott Townsend
Did you have any contact with Prescott Townsend?
Charming. Kooky. He and I wandered around town a few times during different conventions, window-shopping and such. He was a kind and—I didn’t understand it at the time—the kind of person from an old aristocratic background who could brag about the fact that he got the seersucker suit he was wearing for 50 cents at a Goodwill store. And he was just so comfortable that he didn’t have to put on the dog, and would do almost the opposite, where at the meetings, other people were, those who were the social climbers, were just scandalized by this kind of tacky, old, rumpled-suit.
Donald Webster Cory.
[Still on Townsend] But he’s buried behind the Boston Athenaeum.
In one of the most select cemeteries in the United States. [Laughs] He was a sweet guy—still with Townsend—a sweet guy, a fighter in an odd sort of way that embarrassed most of the Mattachine people then, because they were so conservative and respectability-oriented.
Would you say he was ahead of his time? Even more than most of the people from that era?
He was ahead of his time and behind his time. He was like an 1890 radical.
On Donald Webster Cory
OK. How about Don Cory?
Slimy. First, I’m not convinced that he was actually the author of the original book.
Really? The Homosexual in America. [Ed.: Subtitled A Subjective Approach (1951)]
Yeah. He submitted quite a few manuscripts to ONE, and the manuscripts were so [Pauses] schoolmarmish, uptight, badly put together, nervously reasoned, and the book that was published, the original one, was expansive, open, well-presented. Now, an editor can do a hell of a lot. And that may have been the case. But when the report came out that Donald Webster Cory had died, we got into the question of Arthur Richmond, who was still carrying on the club [Ed.: Cory Book Service, a subscription service], and two other people, and about that time, I came across a case—I started to say another case, I think it may be another case—of someone who had inherited a manuscript from an uncle and tried to rewrite it himself and made it worse, and hired a couple of professional writers to work on it, and ultimately published it after he fucked up what the professional writers had done, a book called They Walk in Shadow, by J. D. Mercer [Ed.: Subtitled A Study of Sexual Variations with Emphasis on the Ambisexual and Homosexual Components and Our Contemporary Sex Laws (1959)]. And I suspect that several people had a hand in the original Homosexual in America, but that it was extremely competently edited so that it was really smoothed out, because it doesn’t read like… Another one is…
Do you think it was more of a work by committee?
Not a work by committee, but a work that someone did initially, and then other people rewrote it and added pieces to it, and so on. So there was never a committee working on it at one time. Now, I don’t know this. But the opinions and the style of the things that Cory submitted to us just did not sound as if they could come from the same person that I met two or three times. He was… I would almost say viperish. He was brainwashed by Albert Ellis. And that could account for all of the trouble all by itself.
I had approached him to co-edit Pursuit and Symposium, the magazine I put out for two issues.
We’ll talk about that later.
And I was already nervous about the idea. But he said, yes, he’d be glad to. Providing there was a featured article by Albert Ellis in every issue. I said, “Well, I’m not excited about that, but I will accept that, providing there’s a competent answer to Albert Ellis’ article in the same issue.” Well, that was the end of our contact. And that was after he had rewritten the initial book somewhat.
I know this will be difficult for you, but I want…
And he, for a long period of time, he became increasingly homophobic.
And attacked people like Martin Hoffman [Ed.: The Gay World: Male Homosexuality and the Social Creation of Evil (1968)] and other writers on the subject, who were homosexual but weren’t publicly known to be homosexual. Hiding that fact.
On Harry Hay
I know this will be tough, but a real short take on Harry Hay.
I know that will be difficult! But just initial thoughts.
I’m super-awed by him, and always have been. I love him, and I was almost inclined to say I can’t stand him. He is incredibly domineering, without… I think he does not let himself realize how domineering he is. We were lovers briefly…
Right. Summer of ’62.
…I moved in with him. And he met Johnny [Burnside], or courted Johnny in my living room.
Yes, yes. We’ll talk more about that later.
I felt like an invader in the house while they were there. He’s inspiring, and he is still locked into dogma which he constantly re-examines without ever examining. Our relationship ended—now, in his memory, it ended when I ran over his Siamese, and I had forgotten about that.
The cat was sleeping under my car in a steep driveway on a very steep hill, and I felt horrible about it at the time, but when he had moved in, I had a cat already, and the two did not get along together, so his became the outside cat. And that was a question of resentment already. He immediately decided that we were going to go on a backpacking trip into the High Sierras…
And you had to cancel your vacation rather than go on this trip because he was so domineering.
Well, he decided what the menu would be; how far we would walk each day—and of course, everything he decided, he said this was what “we” are deciding. It was always, never—he decided, we will do this, this is what we want to do. And I said, “Look, Harry. I have been out camping a few times. I am totally incapable of sleeping even indoors in a bedpack. I like mountain hiking, as long as there is a bed at the end of it each night—”
I understand that.
“—and the probability is that I will not sleep even in a strange bed, but I’ll sleep better than I will in a—” What do you call it?
“—bedroll.” And, [Harry said] “Oh, you’ll like it!” Well, with the menu, and various things… but I don’t, I can’t eat that. “Oh, you’ll like it! You’ll like it! You’ll like it!” And finally, I just said, “Well, I can’t get the time off.”
Flexibility is not one of Harry’s strong points. Well, let’s leave it at that for the moment.
On Rudi Gernreich and Harry Hay
I never met him. He was at the original Mattachine convention where I was, but there were…
When you say convention, you mean the one in ’53?
The April/May ‘53. But I don’t remember seeing him. I wouldn’t have known… And there were at least 110 individuals there, most of them beautiful, and most of them I hadn’t seen before, so he was just one other. Harry did the “we” thing with Rudi also. All of them. And Chuck [Rowland] and Bob [Hull] and ‘Jim’ [Ed.: He might have said “Stim,” the nickname for both Jim Gruber and Konrad Stevens] all said that Rudi never spoke up. Except for jokes. And he made wonderful jokes, and they all had crushes on him. But that he never expressed an opinion, but always that Harry said, “Rudi and I think….” Then “Jorn and I think….” Then “Jim and I think….” Then “Johnny and I think….” [Laughs] I talked to him a couple of times, not many months before he died, when an earlier biographer was working on a book about Harry, and Harry ordered it canceled. It was already being set in type! The author had received some pay, Temple University Press, and Harry threatened to sue the publisher and UCLA. And the disagreement was entirely that the author had failed totally to understand the distinction Harry made between sympathy and empathy.
This is what worries me.
Empathy is totally bad. I mean, no. Sympathy is totally bad. It’s patronizing. Well, I can see that. That’s not usually what it means, but that’s—you could have that in the meaning. And empathy, at the time that Harry did the interview, was good. But then later, Harry decided that empathy was invading someone else’s psychic space.
And trying to read their mind. And Mitch just stuck to, “Well, this is what you’ve said. I’ve got it on tape! I took down what you said. And if you want a footnote about what you think now, OK.”
No, Mitch Tuchman, who is a writer for the County Museum of Art. [Ed.: Tuchman intended to publish Hay’s oral history under the title Radical Faerie Consciousness, incorporating some of Hay’s existing oral history, We Are a Separate People. The Hay–Tuchman correspondence exhibits more than a disagreement based on the latter’s misunderstanding of the distinction between sympathy and empathy.]
Yeah, actually, that’s one of the things that really concerns me. Obviously, I’d love to interview Harry, but I’m really worried about trying to make sure that I get him correct. Because, you know, from what you’ve said and from other things that I’ve read, I know how difficult he can be, and that’s why I—I mean, I’m really walking on eggshells.
Oh, Stuart [Timmons, Hay’s biographer] had enormous difficulties. And relations were broken off a dozen times. And the last time, which was the most serious break… After the book was completed, Harry had insisted on the insertion of a full chapter of his writing, justifying the Moscow-Berlin pact as a correct strategy. The worst mistake that the Communists [unintelligible] ever made, and he wanted to take a whole chapter justifying that. Well, it was irrelevant to the book!
And Stuart just knew it would destroy the book.
On Chuck Rowland and Bob Hull
How about Chuck Rowland?
Sweet. Expansive. Obtuse. At that first convention, Chuck made the opening keynote, and Harry made the closing keynote. Now, I’m not sure whether one was in April and the other was in May, probably. Harry’s was in May. And Chuck’s—by my memory—shocked nearly everybody in the room. Harry remembers everybody applauding. Because Harry reads response by his own response. Like Barbara Gittings at one of the NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] conferences, she always heard the ten “ayes” louder than the 120 “nays,” and would demand a recount, and just couldn’t believe, “Why did everybody change their vote?” [Laughs] [Ed.: Sears, in Chapter 16 of Behind the Mask of the Mattachine (2006), writes that the three “evening speakers” in April were Rowland, Hay, and Wallace de Ortega Maxey. Chapters 19 and 20, dealing with the May convention, mention no keynote addresses.]
[Back to Chuck] But Chuck’s speech was, “I can’t tell you—.” Very thick glasses and pop-eyed. “And I can’t tell you how proud I am, how happy I am, to be here in this room”—and he had forgotten all about this speech. I told it every time I introduced him when he came back [to Los Angeles], so that he picked up my version of the speech, however accurate that may have been, but it’s what I remember—”to be in a room with just over 100 people who are determined to fight the oppression that we’ve suffered in silence for almost 2000 years. But I look forward to the day when we will not be behind closed doors, but we will be out marching by the hundreds, arms raised, singing militant songs—or chanting militant chants, whichever—down all the main avenues of America and the world.” Well, I had been kicked out of the Communist Party, and I was always a little embarrassed that the Russian marches… between the similarity between the Nazi goose-step and the Russian-Communist goose-step weren’t that dissimilar. Although the May Day parades I’d been in New York weren’t like that at all. But they also weren’t like the gay parades. And so I was a little nervous about the idea of gays marching. It sounded authoritarian, but everybody else, nearly everybody else was totally shocked out of their minds. And that was, at that point, Chuck was on his way out of the organization.
Bob [Hull] was slight, soft, chipper, musically-brilliant—organist, did some composing, as I recall—cute and much joking. He was the representative from upstairs to our Guild, the Guild I came into, and he was liked by most of the people, even though nearly everyone in our Guild was suspicious with the kind of total paranoia about the Foundation. They sort of made an exception with Bob.
He was considered the great communicator, wasn’t he? Didn’t he have particularly good communication skills?
He seemed to have.
And have the synthesis?
So did Chuck, in a more formal way. Bob seemed to do it almost as if, as if [unintelligible] conversation. It didn’t sound like a prepared speech or anything. It didn’t sound formal—but he got the ideas across. Chuck would be more formal, more rhetorical, but good. Harry [Hay] would be formal, rhetorical, over people’s heads, but exciting! He could stir a crowd, but the remark by Phyllis [Lyon] and Del [Martin] after Harry’s speech at ONE’s ’56 Midwinter Institute when the Daughters of Bilitis showed up for the first time. “God, that was exciting! What did he say?” [Laughs]
Were he [Bob] and Chuck still together when Bob committed suicide?
No. They had been lovers; they were still very close friends. Dave Pohl, who was another very cute one, taller, who’d just been fired from North American Aircraft because his name was in somebody else’s address book who got arrested, and at the conference, Dave leaned forward and started to hug Bob and sort of rub cheeks, and he [Bob] got… “I can’t have sex with friends.” And that was very serious with Bob. And it was a thing that always sort of puzzled me. I just don’t understand that.
Chuck and Bob and I made a trip to Mexico City together to try to organize a group down there.
[Off tape, Jim talks about the trip.]
Chuck insisted that Bob take the wheel. Bob went to sleep and drove off an embankment. And my first reaction was almost, “I told you so!” [Laughs] It was a stupid reaction, but I was just…
Very human. No problem there.
On Dale Jennings
Essentially nasty. Always sort of on the attack.
Very contentious. Now that he’s resurfaced a bit in the last year or so, has insisted that none of the other Mattachine people bought one little bit of Harry Hay’s bullshit. But several did and some didn’t. But Harry could out-talk the rest of them. And in occasional moments of honesty admitted that he could. Dale insists that the only thing—by far, most homosexuals just want to live in private and do what they do in bed, and don’t want their neighbors to know anything about us, none of their neighbor’s business. And they’re not interested in waving a flag with all this talk about gay culture, gay minority, and so on. It’s absolute bullshit.
Sounds like he lives in Phoenix. [Ed.: At the time of the interview, Paul Cain resided in Phoenix, Arizona.]
[End of Tape 1, Side 1]
[Tape 1, Side 2]
While the Mattachine was getting started, Harry Hay lived one block away from me, Dale a block-and-a-half, Chuck about six blocks.
Was that in Silverlake?
Mm-hm. Silverlake/Echo Park. To them, it was “Red Hill.”
And I was having people meet at my house, and occasionally discussing with a few of them the idea of starting something, not knowing that this had already started at first. Then, when I heard about it, I was working in a factory in Vernon in Southeast L.A., had to be at work at midnight, and depended on public transportation. When I heard about meetings in Santa Monica Canyon, or the Los Feliz Hills, there was no way to get there and get to work on time. Anyhow. In the ’60s, late ’60s/early ’70s, I ran into Dale occasionally at the Pioneer Market at Sunset and Echo Park. And every time, as soon as he saw me, he would start attacking me for associating with those radicals, because the L.A. Free Press had had an article about gay something. Well, the fact that they printed an article about us wasn’t necessarily an association on our part. And their quoting was generally highly inaccurate. It was not necessarily [unintelligible] in the way that a lot of the underground was homophobic, without being specifically homophobic. And so he always just assumed that anything that appeared in the paper, I was somehow responsible for as part of the gay movement. And I could never, never carry on a conversation with him. If you even answered, then he would go off on, “Well, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Very cantankerous person. But his cantankerousness had a place at the very early stage. It gave ONE’s first year a necessary cantankerous style, as opposed to the very… whipping-cream style of the Mattachine at the time, after the originators were out.
On Don Slater and Chuck Rowland: Skinflints
More cantankerous [than Dale], but also fun. Little old lady from Pasadena. Cute. Aware of that, and was very cute. If you play cute with him… I haven’t heard from him from almost a year, and I wonder if something may have happened. He’s 73 now, and had open-heart surgery two or three times about eight years back. [Ed.: He lived three more years.] He was calling me occasionally. He is pretty much the fountainhead of the idea that the right of privacy is our only defense, and coming out publicly, or parading in the street, is parading your perversion in front of other people. Dr. Kinsey proved a long time ago that 95% of American males engage in one kind of perverted act or another, so as long as you do it in your bedroom, you have the right to privacy. And he was a very good draft counselor, but he could be cute about all this if you don’t make him mad. And he’s a super-tantrum thrower. If you can interview him, I would recommend it. You can get on best if you scrupulously avoid using the term gay. Don’t ever use such a concept as the homophile or homosexual or gay community or minority, or anything like that. It is a kind of behavior. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do.
And as the behavior, we’re part of the sexual freedom movement, which the early movement was, and we’ve sort of abandoned that now, unfortunately. But it narrows and limits what the movement is. And Don, more than any of the others except Morris Kight, is extremely jealous of anyone else coming into the movement and daring to speak up, to think they could represent us without his permission. He’s peppery… as I say, he could be cute, and he could be a lot of fun. He was a competent editor of ONE, and he really blossomed when he split from Dorr [Legg] and the early issues of ONE under his auspices, and of Tangents were a much brighter, much more creative magazine than ONE had ever been. Because Dorr always handled the purse-strings, and…
…Skinflint, I think you called him.
Chuck [Rowland] was that way with Celebration Theatre. In the first play, As Time Goes By, a wonderful gay historical play done by the [Gay] Sweatshop Theatre in England, moving from Edward Carpenter to Hirschfeld to the Nazi round-ups to Stonewall [Laughs], there was one cake-cutting scene. And Chuck insisted on one cake lasting for the length of the play. And the actors thought they were going to eat part of the cake during each performance [Laughs], and he was furious that it had got sliced, so in the later performance they had to carry it so that it wouldn’t show that it had already been sliced. And of course, they were just beside themselves with indignity and contempt for that.
And Chuck would have been a brilliant drama coach at Virginia, Minnesota at the Masabi Community College, where the students had to pay to take the classes, and after they had already paid, they had to stick around for a grade, and Chuck was the kind of…
…he was the kind of teacher who—most of the students were out of mining or wheat-farm families. Uncultured families, poor families, generally—not all. And Chuck opened the cultural world to them. So I’ve met many of his students who kept visiting him.
Yes. I think that’s what I need there, though.
On Hal Call
Hal Call. Now I know we’re going into a different phase of people, so…
If you interview Hal Call,…
…as I hope to do…
…go out and get a few drinks under his belt. He would be likely to treat. But make sure he’s had a couple of drinks.
[Laughs] Loosen him up a little?
He’ll talk much more freely. Otherwise, you’ll get a public relations statement. Hal, I always felt, typified those individuals which led me for a long time to say—and it’s an extreme overgeneralization, but I think it applied to a lot of the early movement—the more their focus is on P.R., the worse I think their self-image is as homosexuals.
The more they despise themselves as homosexuals. And the filthier their homosexual activity is. Hal was one who went on with a totally despicable sidekick, Nellie Finn, who was the one who threatened to turn all our names over to the FBI and all the other security agencies. They went down to the trucks in San Francisco, and sort of scored one another on who could get the largest number of blow jobs the fastest. When Hal began doing speaking engagements to schools and to PTAs and to various other groups, his approach was, “I’m a cocksucker.”
In those settings?
That was his opening wording. And it just never—now, I’m not a P.R.-type, but P.R. is of some concern. I just don’t think you start it out like that with a mixed group. If you’re in an avant-garde group, OK. [Laughs] A bunch of artists, or so on. Radicals. Although prior to ’69, most radicals were very middle-class, uptight, suit-and-tie, and all that. Suit and tie or proper workers clothes.
And a lot of that was influenced by Frank Kameny, right? We’ll come back to that later.
With the help of someone else, who knew the techniques, Hal made a number of educational films on gay sex for the Methodist Church. They were beautifully done. Sort of in the “closer she gets, the better she looks” advertising. [Ed.: “The closer he gets…the better you look!” was the tag line for Clairol’s Nice’n [sic] Easy shampoo.]
But he made lots of other films for his Cinemattachine. And he reduced the original Mattachine to a porno/jack-off house. Which I think is shameful. He made lots of J/O films, and he almost seemed to have a preference for scruffy-looking street kids who had cold sores or so on. Now, I’ve gotten cold sores occasionally. But if I’m watching something, hoping to get an erotic response out of it, I would just as soon not see sores all over the arms or legs, or cold sores particularly. Wait ’till they’re cleaned up, or—if there are sores all over one side of the leg, shoot the other side! Some of them weren’t bad-looking, but I think he sort of reveled in that. It was part of the gutter.
I’m sure it was probably intentional, even if he didn’t realize it.
And in his early ads for the [Pan-Graphic Press] Book Service, he specialized in descriptions, “Read the perverted details,” “Get the filthy inside facts.”
Right. Don Lucas.
[Still on Call] He could be—but he could be pleasant, but was very, very conservative.
On Don Lucas
Don Lucas—more conservative, stuffy.
More conservative than Hal?
Stuffy. Large, plump, darkish guy. The sort that you’d expect to be the manager of some small business.
He was an accountant, right?
Accountant. Pleasant. Generally denied that he was gay.
More from that behavior school? Was he more from that behavior school?
Well, no. The term—he would deny that he was homosexual. I never got the rationale of that. A couple of times he came down to L.A. and was very disturbed about some of the things Hal was doing, thought it would destroy the Mattachine, and wanted our support in opposing Hal at one of the national conferences. Well, the motions got on the floor, we spoke up and Don kept his mouth shut, and we were left there opposing Hal and not quite able to swing the votes, and his support would have made the difference, but he kept his mouth shut. And I could never quite figure out that—whether he had changed his mind in the meantime—but he never explained it to us. At least, if I had coaxed someone else into something like that, and changed my mind, I would have let them know before or after that there… [Laughs]
Do you think it he could have been like Harry, where he was just afraid to oppose him?
That could be.
Yeah, because Hal just wouldn’t have stood for something like that from him?
Now, Chuck [Rowland] said that the worst mistake he ever made in the movement was when we went up and organized the groups in the Bay Area, Oakland first, Berkeley second, and San Francisco was third. Reversing the expected order, since San Francisco is the center of the universe.
Yes. I’m from the Bay Area myself, so I know that.
And Chuck said he chose Hal as the best leader. Hal stayed at my house at the first conference, and I learned very quickly what I had learned at the [Communist] Party. When you are dealing with ideas that your opponents, other people, are likely to disagree with, at all costs avoid jargon! You try to put them in their terminology. And so I could get Hal to accept ideas which were identical to ideas that he had bitterly rejected coming from Harry or Chuck by just using different terminology, which clearly meant the same thing. I learned that in Union Square in New York when I was in the Party and on the staff of the Daily Worker.
On Kenneth Burns
How about Kenneth Burns and Boopsie Rieger?
Ken Burns was a prettier version, then, of Don Lucas. Smooth, handsome. Uptight. Could have been the head of an insurance office or a bank vice-president. I gather he, like many others, had been a ministerial student. And that showed some. Smooth, personable. Narrow and conservative. One who felt, as at least two other people in the whole damn movement have, that there’s one way to do things, and only one way. And that’s the way that he happens to have in mind, which is just—it’s obvious as the nose on your face!
Who were the other two? Harry?
No, not two. That was a sarcastic remark.
[Laughs] More or less?
[Laughs] Most movement activists—there are very few—more now than there used to be…
I was going to say, it hasn’t changed at all.
There are more now than there used to be who are capable of seeing that people who disagree with them aren’t necessary fools or enemy agents.
There was a marvelous article in The Advocate a few, maybe a couple of years ago, about “eating our own.” [Ed.: “Eating Our Own,” 13 Aug 1992.] One of the most intelligent articles I ever read. And this movement has a history of doing that.
Most movements do.
Yeah. In terms of putting it in perspective that’s correct.
Also, most movements come from a more homogenous background. When you talk of a variety of movements, many of those you’re talking about are older, have an established tradition—if you join the American Legion, the rules, the purposes, and so on are already established. You can argue to change them, but you’re arguing from a set base. Here we’re establishing the base, and we’re coming from all over the field. At that first conference, there were people who could not conceive of arguing—arguing “ain’t nice.” But there were things we had to argue about! There were things we had to discuss. And since we had sharp disagreements, it was inevitable that some of them would get warm.
But wasn’t it all the way into the ’60’s where there were still tremendous debates about whether homosexuality was considered a mental illness? You know, and did you argue, yes, we’re mentally ill but we’re not bad people? As opposed to, this is not a mental illness, and there’s nothing wrong with it?
I chaired—and I was going over the record of it today—one of the ONE’s annual programs. I chaired the session with a very [unintelligible] from Mattachine and reported what they were doing. And Basil Verilyn, who was the research chairman, reported that the key focus of Mattachine is to find subjects to supply to researchers so they can figure out what causes this problem so that in the next generation there won’t be any problem. [Ed.: Kepner moderated a roundtable discussion, “Is it Unnatural to be Homosexual?” at the 1959 Midwinter Institute, “Mental Health and Homosexuality.”]
Well, I was in the position of chairman, where you’re supposed to be reasonable and polite, but oh boy, was I strained! Don [Slater] and Dorr [Legg] were both on their feet, and Don the loudest, “I refuse to be researched out of existence!” Don had very little liking for researchers, generally speaking. [S]o that a lot of the people in New York Mattachine, until Kameny—the first bit of real radicalism from Kameny was that he was tired of all of these doctors and so on that were coming in and telling them how sick they were, and they all sat there, clapping, because the doctor was nice enough to speak to them!
Right, right. Did Kameny start in New York and then move to D.C.? Or was he out of D.C. and just went to New York…
He was out of D.C. but he went to New York for most of the meetings. Particularly when they had ones like that. And they had a lot of them like that. And he screamed. But at one of the DOB [Daughters of Bilitis] conferences they had one of these speakers, and most of the people at the banquet were very upset because Dorr and I got up and disagreed with the speaker. We were reasonably polite but firm, and they thought that was just very bad manners.
On Boopsie Rieger
She ended up in the Self-Realization Fellowship. Dorr [Legg] and I saw her a couple of years later at the airport, and we approached right up to her face, and she just refused to recognize us.
She could not have failed to recognize us. She made an impassioned version of, “Has not the Jew ears?” and so on speech.
The Shylock speech. [Ed.: Kepner refers to Marilyn “Boopsie” Rieger’s open letter to delegates of the May 1953 Mattachine convention, which begins, “To paraphrase Shakespeare…‘Hath not a homosexual eyes?’ ”]
Oh! Okay. The Merchant of Venice.
And it was opposing the idea that we were in any way different from anybody else. And we should be accepted as being just like everybody else, except for the unimportant thing we do in bed. Or wherever. [Laughs] She was an effective speaker. The first woman in the organization who was really outspoken and who had opinions, awful as they were. [Laughs] There were a couple of others later who were fairly active, but who weren’t—there were no doctrinaire questions with them.
Let’s just go ahead and break it there.
On Florence Conrad
I liked her very much. Her ideas were aborted. She was sharp, had scientific background. Thin. Personable. I gradually realized how very conservative her ideas were, and that an awful lot of what she was rejecting was just out of her…
Philosophy. Some ideas she simply could not accept. But we got on excellently, and we somehow managed in discussion to stay within the range of what we agreed on, and not get into the disagreements. In fact, I think probably I didn’t realize how different our opinions were until some of the things she wrote to ONE after the last time I saw her.
Whatever happened to her? I never, I don’t see any record of her after like late ’50s/early ’60s. I just don’t know where she went.
Into the early ’70s, I believe.
OK. I just didn’t, haven’t seen anything. I haven’t been able to find much on her.
Did she stay involved in the Daughters [of Bilitis]?
Well, there was a big break in the Daughters at that point…
Rita Laporte and Barbara Grier?
By Rita Laporte, and I made the mistake, about a year-and-a-half ago of trying to invite Barbara Grier and Barbara Gittings to be on the same panel. [Laughs] Barbara Gittings just considers Barbara Grier a thief.
Oh, dear. [Laughs]
Who did the same thing to The Ladder [that] Barbara Gittings figures Don Slater did to ONE. [Ed.: Here Kepner appears to refer to the schism in ONE Inc. rather than to ONE magazine.]
Mercy. Very interesting.
Don Slater plays cute about that. He calls it a heist and so on. And I can agree with his provocation, but not with what he did. And what I find more annoying is that he was taking me as a model.
In what sense?
Well, the first time I realized that working at ONE was absolutely impossible, I had taken my desk, the file cabinet just on the other side of that shelf, wooden file cabinet, several hundred of my books—which were rubber-stamped “Property of Jim Kepner”—and the Encyclopedia Brittanica into ONE’s office to the clear understanding that these were my property. Knowing Don [Slater] and Dorr [Legg] fairly well, I figured that if I didn’t get them out before I quit, I wouldn’t get them.
Right, right. Never see them again.
So one night my roommate and I moved those things out. And that was Don’s “model.” But I was taking things that were understood as being my property. [Laughs]
With Don, it was a slightly different thing. What I did learn was that he had legal advice that when there is a real, serious struggle in an organization, and one side has taken control by what the other side considers improper means, that if the one on the other side can simply move things and operate in a public place for the purposes for which the organization is set up, then it becomes incumbent on the others to prove that they were wrong. Now, my initial reaction, particularly when he referred to it as the “Heist” and so on, and joked about it, was that it was simply thievery. And when Don jokingly said that several of the board members who opposed him had civil service jobs, and that if they thought they were going to oppose him publicly, they would lose their jobs…
…to me, that was blackmail. I think Don meant it as a joke, but to him it was a serious joke.
Sure. Which could be easily misunderstood. Sure.
And it wasn’t taken as being funny by the persons to whom he made the threat.
He probably would not have gone after their job, but I think he figured that if they had to end up in court using their own name, they’d probably lose their jobs.
Sure. And just the mention of that, I would figure at that time, would strike terror…
On Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.
Fun. In the early period, the Daughters [of Bilitis] were the most conservative of the three groups.
Daughters, ONE and Mattachine?
And ONE, uh-huh. At each group’s annual meeting, there would be a place on the program where the three groups and any other new groups that showed up temporarily would present what they were about, what they were doing, and what they were hoping to do, what their problems were. And I began very quickly using the analogy of the NAACP for ONE, which fought for change in what then seemed radical ways, and the National Urban League, whose slogan “Light without Heat” was a slap at the NAACP, which sponsored businessmen’s luncheons with white and black businessmen, trying to encourage the white businessmen to hire a couple of black janitors, and to put up money for a couple of scholarships to send some black to school, to a black school.
So that he could be a janitor.
Yep. And I said that I felt that the two worked together, that unless the conservative groups soften up the Establishment a little bit, that the radicals could scream all they want and they won’t really get anywhere. But unless the radicals scream, all the softening up won’t amount to anything. And you need a sort of one-two punch. I said, well, they accepted the analogy, but they didn’t entirely think that what ONE was doing or what the NAACP was doing was worth doing. [Laughs] We were the crazy ones who were screamers.
[End of Tape 1, Side 2]
[Tape 2, Side 1]
I would assume that Phyllis was the more radical of the two, but they never argued in public, they never disagreed in public, so far as I know. They were insistent in the early period on the image-polishing that… and Del eventually became rather [convinced] that our image is terrible, and that, instead of demanding acceptance, we’ve got to clean up the filth in our own backyard. And that—I suspect they were talking about Hal [Call], in part, but not only about Hal. Erotica, boy-love, not dressing properly, radicalism.
Sure. And I think that makes sense, when you realize that the Daughters was designed as a social club originally, rather than something else.
And they had their first early disagreement on whether they should begin to be somewhat political.
Right. And that’s when the group split the first time.
They became more—and even by ’66 or ’67, while they hadn’t become women’s liberationists yet, they were already beginning to say that women’s concerns were more important than homosexual concerns, and all of you men are just concerned with the freedom to have sex in the tea-rooms. If you’d just get the fuck out of the tea-rooms, we could discuss the problems that are really important to us. And at the September ’67 conference down here, [unintelligible], I was one of the guys who could get on best with them. And who seemed to understand them most. But to such a degree that after one of them made such a speech, I asked, “What problems? What are these other problems you want to get to? If I ought to be concerned with those, then what are they?” “Well, lesbian mothers.” “What’s that?”
They were ahead of their time.
Well, I knew one or two women who had children, but I didn’t think of it as a category. I didn’t think of it as an issue. When women go to doctors, the doctors, even if they happen to be women, are male-educated, and treat women’s complaints. Well, I had had that same experience with doctors myself. But it took me a half-hour into the conversation to realize that that again was a generalization that was a very important issue. That women’s health concerns weren’t treated seriously by the professionals, even by most women doctors. And the question of loving, as opposed to sex. Monogamy. Well, I’ve never been a tea-room type myself. But I’m amazed at the degree to which they kept saying I was one of the men they got along with best, and that understood them best, and that I could have completely misunderstood them [Laughs] on a point like that after several years of discussion. And it was obvious that they had real problems with some of the people who were… Dorr [Legg], at the time, was writing a book (which happily never got published) on counseling. And in it, he sums up the “lesbian problem”…
…which was his title for the chapter, with an incident where, at one of our conferences, two lesbians had gotten into an argument, and one had had too much to drink, and one had punched her fist through the window. And that was typical. Well, I have seen incidents like that with lesbians eight or ten times over 50 years [Laughs], which isn’t a great amount because I’ve seen an awful lot of lesbians, and I’ve seen that far less frequently with male gays, so I would say it’s more likely among lesbians, but it’s not typical.
And for him to sort of write off counseling lesbians with that one example was just, Jesus Christ, where does this man come from?
Good thing it was never published.
So… Phyllis worked for the Sex & Drug Forum, which was fairly radical.
What period of time are we talking about here? Still in the ’60s? Or are we going into the ’70s now?
This would be ’67, probably, through ’71 or ’72, maybe. [Ed.: It was founded in 1968, according to an archive of the website of its current incarnation, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.]
Okay. And this is in San Francisco, right?
[Yes.] And I would think that Del would not have been capable of working with them. Phyllis was all teeth. Small. And Del was big, sort of squarish. And at one panel, she and a judge, woman, [Dorothy] von Beroldingen, can’t remember her first name, were on a panel, and von Beroldingen was sitting on the other side of Phyllis, then Del, and then Officer… Oh, dear. The guy who was the liaison to the gay community for a long time. And a real Irish-bull cop. And on the panel, at a three-quarter side angle, he and Del looked like twins. [Laughs] Same profile. So I was just amazed at this. Because I had never thought of them as looking at all alike. Elliot… Ness, Elliott… something. [Ed.: Elliott Blackstone, assigned in 1962, according to Wikipedia.]
I’ll find it.
And—interesting thing with him. SIR [Ed.: Society for Individual Rights, filed for incorporation 22 Jul 1964] had found out about him. He was going around to PTA groups…
This is the officer we’re talking about now.
Yeah. Taking around films about sex perverts, and watch out for your kids, and someone in SIR got hold of his schedule, so every place he spoke, ten or fifteen people from SIR would be in the audience. And they started giving him hell, in a conciliatory way. They said, “Look. What you’re saying is bullshit. Come around and get acquainted with us. Find out what we’re really like.” And he did. He nearly got thrown off the police force. But they made him liaison to the gay community, and then to the hip community too, when that came along. And he was very, very effective for a long time, although the super-radicals… [Laughs] Like having a police spy in our midst. Even though he soothed an awful lot of crutches.
Now Phyllis and Del were involved in more mainstream San Francisco politics in the ’70s, right?
And became more and more conservative.
I just bought the book Lesbian/Woman [Martin & Lyon, 1972].
Far to the right of Jim Foster. And far opposed to Harvey Milk and the gay liberation people, and so on.
What have they done since—in the ’80s to now?
I think they’re still on one commission or another. One of them held down the [job of] receptionist at Glide Memorial Methodist for a while. Have you ever been to a service there?
I don’t know if they’re electric as they were in that period. But it was like a production of Hair, with the Black Panthers, the old-line ultra-conservative 1890 Methodists, more Asians than I had ever seen in a mixed group. Two morning services, both packed and both rocking. It was one of the most exciting things I had ever gone to! And MCC was dull as hell by comparison, in San Francisco.
And still are to some degree, from some of the people I know who have been there and gone there. It’s funny that of all the places, MCC, in a lot of ways, never fully caught on, Jim Sandmire notwithstanding. The MCC San Francisco really was not very cohesive. But that’s another story. We won’t talk about that.
Well, I went up there, and I was rather annoyed at the… In L.A., most of the time—and I haven’t been to an L.A. service for quite a while now, several years—you could hardly get in the door before you were, like going into a Pentecostal church. You were made part of the family. And everybody reacts that way. And it’s possible to be a wallflower there, but not easy. In San Francisco, it’s just very cliquish. I went two or three times and always had that feeling like I’m a stranger wherever I sit. It was like when I was a kid. If I went to a Presbyterian church in a strange town, wherever I sat I had the feeling that I had sat in someone else’s pew. And so I started going to Pentecostal churches when I was by myself. Because you were welcomed into the family. The Presbyterian Church, you get a limp handshake at the door.
And that was the way it was there. And then someone recognized me, and I was a celebrity, so I was introduced. And that, I sort of resented.
This is at Glide now again, we’re talking about?
No, at MCC. No, at Glide…
You’d’ve blended into the fabric.
On Barbara Gittings
Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen.
She showed up in L.A. in fifty-…
Seven. On her first tour. Had heard about the movement. I met her for breakfast, arriving after she had almost finished breakfast at Corky [Irma “Corky” Wolf] and—it wasn’t Corky and Joan [?Corbin] then, Corky had already played musical chairs, and the second woman I—she and Joan had come from Ann Arbor together, where Dorr [Legg] also came from. I can’t remember the other one’s name now.
[S]o Barbara had eaten a healthy breakfast, cleaned up Corky and Vicki’s plates. Then raided the icebox. And was raiding the icebox as I got there. Then went next door to Joan and Willie’s, and they served breakfast too. Fred Frisbie showed up, whom you should catch. He’s one who’s always overlooked, and he’s probably the senior activist in the United States. Since his first activism dates to 1929, in a meeting with [Henry] Gerber, where they were trying to discuss the idea of organizing.
And I was going to call him, and I can’t find his phone number. Or is it Frederick Frisbie, and I think he would be listed that way in the book. He doesn’t have the address to go with it. Fred came in his yellow Cadillac, which I thought was all beat-up, but he was so incredibly proud of his Cadillac convertible.
What period are we talking now, Jim?
This was in ’57. Drove us out to a drive-in in El Monte that was a reconverted—it had been a drive-in, it had turned into a gay nightclub. With a different style in every room. One room was Western, one was cool jazz [Laughs], and so on. And we had a big breakfast out there, and Barbara just seemed to have a bottomless pit!
She was a big girl.
She was in hiking togs, as if she was going to climb the Rockies. And we’ve gotten on wonderfully ever since. We disagree on almost all points…
But in a friendly manner. You do it in a friendly manner.
Yeah. We served together on the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Credentials Committee, and I was a minority of one there.
Right. You were the only one representing the West Coast, right?
To open it up. And they were all wanting to be very, very tight. To be sure you know everything about an organization, that there’s nothing wrong with the organization…
That was more Foster Gunnison’s, that came more from Foster Gunnison, didn’t it?
From Gunnison. Gunnison was the meticulous bookkeeper. But [Frank] Kameny was the one who was the real pusher on every organization must be proper, by his strategy. And Gunnison just died this week.
Did he? Oh, dear! I had hoped to interview him. Shoot.
I’d gotten a letter from him reprimanding me for not calling him Foster Gunnison the Third in my review of [Martin Duberman’s] Stonewall in the Archives’ newsletter. And he didn’t sign the letter Foster Gunnison III, I saw his check, and there was no III on the check. [Laughs] [Ed.: In Stonewall(1993) Duberman refers to him as “Foster Gunnison Jr.” as does the University of Connecticut, repository of Gunnison’s papers.]
Anything else about Barbara?
She did a good job on the Library Committee, although she drew a tight line on what was acceptable. And there was an awful lot of important gay literature that just didn’t get her… She wasn’t as tight as some of the later feminists were, and the first wave of radical feminists hated her. She was driven off the platform at a number of speaking engagements by them.
Because she was too conservative?
She would work with men.
Oh. Yeah, yeah.
She tended to use the word homosexual or homophile rather than gay and lesbian. […] During the conference, well, let’s see, in Chicago in ’68, a month before, two weeks before the NACHO conference, which was two weeks before the Chicago Democratic Convention. And that town was already prepared for the arrival of the radicals. Walking down the street, I could feel the hostile eyes from police cars coming up behind me three blocks back.
Because you were gay?
I was wearing a medallion, and my hair was slightly long, and it just… The hostility. I had never felt that in any other town before! The hostility was just palpable all over.
Barbara and I disagreed on almost everything in the sessions, but we went for long walks. Both of us liked walking, and in one place we got on a freeway overpass that was being torn down. But we didn’t realize it until we were out on what was left of it.
[Laughs] The skeleton of this thing. We had to sort of back up very, very carefully. Busy talking. Just past the Lark Ellen Towers. Curved towers on the lake front. [Ed.: Lark Ellen Towers was in West Covina, CA. Kepner likely is referring to Lake Point Tower, completed in 1968.] She took me around Philadelphia a year and a half ago, just two days before I was to go back and visit Chuck [Rowland]. And when I stopped with Jean-Nickolaus Tretter in the Twin Cities, he was going to drive me out there, and instead he said, “Let’s go have coffee.” I said, “Well, I don’t drink coffee, but I’ll have something if you want.” And he said Chuck had died. Chuck had arranged a reunion with his students from Iowa and from Minnesota, in Duluth. [Ed.: Rowland died 27 Dec 1990.]
I don’t find much of anything on Barbara from like the mid-’70s forward.
She almost—a lot of the early, women who had been in the earlier movement were almost driven out of the movement. She continued working locally. She helped organize the Gay Nurses Association. [Ed.: The organization was named Gay Nurses’ Alliance. (glbtq.com; see p. 4)]
When you say locally, we’re talking about Philadelphia?
In Philadelphia, but it was the national organization that started in Philadelphia, at a conference. She spoke widely. She worked closely with [Frank] Kameny for years, and I don’t know when that broke off.
Oh, it did?
Because the two of them worked together…
Oh, yeah, all the way up to the Psychiatric… [Ed.: The 1972 American Psychiatric Association panel that featured a gay Philadelphia psychiatrist, John E. Fryer, appearing in disguise.]
…on a lot of the security issues and so on. And then, all of a sudden, I found when I was talking to either one of them, I’d ask, well, are you still seeing Kameny, or are you still seeing Barbara, and the subject just got quietly changed. I mean, they would never answer the question. [Laughs] Something had happened, but I never found out what it was.
I’ll see if I can find out.
And I don’t think—whatever it was, I think it’s been healed over.
But she continued working locally, and worked with the American Library Association. She was the [American] Library Association [GLBT] Task Force for many, many years. [Ed.: Now called the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the ALA.] Then there was a little revolution, and she was squeezed out. She was not a librarian, but she did a good job on that. And that was simply her baby for quite a few years. I just got a letter from them. They had just heard of us, and want to visit the Archives. [Laughs]
On Carl Harding, aka Elver Barker
Carl Harding. Elver Barker.
Carl B. Harding or Elver Barker, his real name.
His seemed like a very sad story.
I like to have [unintelligible]. He had a little bit of Foster Gunnison’s meticulousness. Overdoing, blowing up a good small job into something enormously complicated. He produced the Mattachine education book, which he put a lot of work into, got a lot of people consulting on. There was a lot of correspondence on every paragraph, every sentence. And it was a mish-moshed piece of shit. Somewhere or other, I seem to have said something like that that got back to him. I don’t think I said it that strongly, but he was very upset. And I don’t think I’d ever said anything quite like that in print. Tall. Blond. Very serious. Fun. But socially naive. He organized the Denver Mattachine, and put together a group of like-minded people that was very effective. [CCNY History professor] Jim Levin, in his very incompetent history of the movement—and Levin was a board member of the Archives for a long time, and I like him personally, but it was an awful, awful piece. [Ed.: Kepner appears to refer to Levin’s The Gay Novel: The Male Homosexual Image in America (1983).] It was almost as bad as the one by Sal Licata.
I don’t think I’ve seen that. Which one, what’s that called?
That was in combination with… it was a USC doctorate [dissertation; available here], but he did an article version in a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality. [Ed.: “The Homosexual Rights Movement in the United States,” Vol. 6, No. 1–2 (Jan 1981), pp. 161–189.] And he had a hot argument with the hospital when he was dying of AIDS about being left on a [gurney] in the hallway for three weeks, with a whole bunch of other…
He being Sal Licata?
Yeah. Anyhow. Sweet, beautiful guy.
Didn’t he kind of get run out of town on a rail? Didn’t he kind of get run out of Denver? I mean, there was some problem where he was… an entrapment case? There was something.
Someone else in the group was entrapped. But I don’t think Elver was. He did move up to Wyoming, I believe to Casper, for quite a few years, and then he’s back in Denver now. I just got a forwarding address from him a couple of weeks ago. For the last several years, he’s taught finger-painting.
Which is a kind of prissy thing to begin with.
All right. [Laughs] It didn’t seem like something you really needed to teach too much.
You take purple and brown inks, and you get your fingers in them, and you make pictures of mountains and skies and so on. It’s an awful lot of work for not much result. [Ed.: To be fair, Barker took finger-painting to another level, as revealed in these photos and remembrances.] But he produced the first really professional, successful program in the history of the homophile movement. The Denver ’59 [Mattachine Society] conference. With the first state legislator as a speaker. The first major professor at a local university. The first daily coverage in both daily papers that was favorable. I got quoted about five different times, and, as is very unusual, I never got severely misquoted. And usually you come up with some quotes that are, “I couldn’t have said anything remotely like that!” [Laughs] Although sometimes I forget what I’ve said.
That’s all right. I’m keeping the tapes; don’t worry.
He moved to San Francisco a while after the conference, and Hal Call treated him contemptuously. Several of the leading ones from Denver moved there, and most of them were lost…
But one thing. Almost all of the leading Denverites were sweetly religious pacifists, into ecology before that term was widely used. And not very pushy in their sexual life. They were concerned with image, and I got three of them onto a panel in the ’80s. I was invited to speak in Denver, and they had never heard that there had been [Laughs] a Denver group in 1958–9. And so I got Carl and one other, whom I had an enormous crush on, who was writing excellent articles for The Advocate. Went swimming with him a couple of times at the Y, but I didn’t get much closer than that. He wrote very thoughtful articles about the consequences of being gay. I’ve read them since then…
What’s his name, Jim?
I… I’ll have to look it up. They were published in the Denver Mattachine newsletter, and some were reprinted in the Mattachine Review. They are not very far out, reading back. And the panel I got them on was a dreadful disappointment. Because, except for the one guy who was a leader in the ACLU of Colorado, who was in the closet at that time but has come out since, and has kept moving, Elver and the other one were saying, “Well, we just don’t understand what’s going on today. We always thought if you dressed nice and behaved nice, people would respect us.” And that was the sum and substance of what they saw, more recently, that they were all about. Now, I thought at the time that Denver was one of the chapters that was kind of in the forefront of the movement! Much further out than San Francisco or New York, and L.A. was virtually dead. And this was a real disappointment. [Laughs]
Sure. It’s amazing what time…
It was a feather in my cap to get them out there, and they just…
On Frank Kameny (and Harry Hay)
Anything else you want to say about Frank Kameny?
One of the most abrasive, and effective, people in the movement up through the early ’70s.
More abrasive than Harry [Hay]?
More effective than Harry?
Harry’s not effective.
Harry’s stuck into his…
Radical Faerie stuff now.
Right. And comes down into the world, and doesn’t know where he’s at. He went to Russia as part of the delegation that went there to Moscow and Leningrad.
“He” Frank, or “he” Harry?
No, Harry. About a year and a half or two years ago. Just as the Communist government was in the middle of collapsing. And Harry was, received the admiration of the young Russian activists as the founder of the movement. And sort of the grandfather. But he tried to tell them how to operate as Marxists, and how to deal with the Communist government when he never knew anything about how to deal with any government! And the—he came away kind of bitter. First he went there still idealizing the worker state, and I got at least the admission out of him—I’ve never gotten a detailed discussion. He really doesn’t quite want to talk about it, but he realized that the worker state that he had idealized was pretty shabby and not very well organized. Well, it was falling apart! And I don’t think he even was aware of that. The government was changing almost by the day then, and trying to tell these kids how to be good Marxists.
Well, Marxism was a poison they had had stuffed in their craw all their lives, and they wanted none of it! Whether they were right or wrong, they didn’t want that shit. And he also realized they were just interested in having a good time. Well, I think that’s an overstatement, because most of them know what risks they’re taking, even in this unstable period, and they’re willing to take the risks. And then he was also trying to preach the Radical Faerie gospel to them, and they didn’t know what he was talking about.
And I’ve done one poem, which I don’t dare show him, but I’ve shown it to a couple of people and he’s probably heard about it, “Comrade, wake up for your dream has died. The great brotherhood that you idealized was our oppression, and we’ve got it worse than anybody else.” And so on. And he hasn’t awakened from the dream, and it would be a nasty thing to show it to him. But I pluralized it by saying “Comrades,” since he wasn’t the only… He was the only one on that trip who was still a loyal Marxist. Anyhow, Frank.
More than almost any other prominent person in the movement, Kameny is almost incapable of realizing that there can be two sides to any question. That there could be two approaches, or fifty approaches, to any problem. That people who have a different goal or different strategies are not fools. And he’s very quick to state that. The first time I met them, he was holding down the office of the Mattachine New York, when I visited there one afternoon. And I got an angry, sharp lecture from him—I didn’t get a word in edgeways—informing me that we out on the West Coast, ONE particularly, were just wasting all of our time, we were full of shit, just trying this education—“I went to Harvard. I’m educated. I don’t need an education!” Well, what did he learn about gays in Harvard?
I’d have liked to have asked him that, but I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. “And our only job”—and I’ve heard this from Dick Michaels, from many, many others—“is to get the police off our backs. And once we get the police off our backs, I don’t care if people are prejudiced or not, as long as they keep it to themselves. I can deal with prejudice—fuck ’em. The discrimination…”
Hang on. End of side.
[End of Tape 2, Side 1]
[Tape 2, Side 2]
…Kameny continued, which on this point applies equally well to Dick Michaels and several others. “Once we get the police off our backs, once we get the law off our backs and get legal discrimination ended, if I want to go bowling, I won’t have to go bowling with some faggot or dyke.”
“And we don’t have time to pick up the flotsam and jetsam of a rotten society. We’ve got to change the law and change that.” Now actually, in practice, Kameny picked up a lot of the flotsam and jetsam of the larger society. He always had homeless people and young kids and so on staying at his house, and I don’t think just for sex. Maybe not for sex at all. He was a generous person, but theoretically, the movement should not concern itself with social activities, should not concern itself with counseling, should not concern itself with education. It should concern itself with changing the legal system.
So he really didn’t have, or doesn’t have, really, a concept of community. “We’re a bunch of individuals…”
That was in the ’60s. I’ve not seen much of him since. He bitterly opposed the, as Morris Kight did, the March on Washington. But after it was obvious that they were going to do it in spite of his advice, the damn fools were gonna do it, and there were going to be people coming to his city, which he was in charge of, he did help them. Quite a bit. And they gave him credit for it, and he admitted that he had. And I saw him the night of the concert before the first March.
When the people were pulling into the area by the thousands. And he looked lost, he looked a little defeated, and it was the first time I heard him admit that he had been wrong. He said, “I told them, and I told them, and I told them that they could not bring it off. And look at this!”
Yeah. What’s he doing, do you have any idea what he’s doing today? What he’s done since the late ’70s? I don’t read much of anything.
I think he’s still working on legal things. Now he came under bitter attack after, in the gay liberation phase, because at that point, the Establishment was the enemy, and all the institutions of the Establishment were the enemy.
We’re talking like ’69–’70–’71?
And to try to get into the army, to get into the civil service—get out of that! The gays who want to stay in that should be shot! And so Kameny was bitterly denounced, as was Barbara [Gittings], and Arthur Warner, or Austin Wade, who hated Kameny, joined in that denunciation for reasons of his own, just because their strategy was different. And the two were equally strident, not quite equally competent, but Warner is fairly competent, a good theoretician, with a totally different theory. With Kameny, every gay who is a victim of discrimination or arrest should sue, should go to court, tell them nothing, answer nothing, confess nothing. Fight, fight, fight. Fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Tie up the courts until the courts get so sick and tired of this that they change the law.
Right. And that’s what he did for about fifteen years, wasn’t it? ’61 to ’75?
And it had an enormous effect. He organized Mattachine chapters all over the Midwest, and you could tell, because they all had all the Kameny rhetoric in their bylaws and constitutions. And he handled lots of cases, including several successes, up to the Supreme Court level.
Right, right. Bruce Scott is one.
I went to one hearing at the Federal Building out here [in Los Angeles]. It was the first one at which he won the right to have the press and the public present. There weren’t many representatives of the public there, probably me and two other people, and I didn’t have press credentials, but I was representing a gay paper. And all of these hearings before had been in private. Where he had to fight to be there, not being an attorney (but being better than most attorneys), he had to learn that, because his own attorney in his own case didn’t know how to handle the fucking case. Kameny did all the research for him, and the attorney didn’t use it!
And so he learned how to handle these cases. Well, he persecuted the poor bastards who were the security men.
Mm-hm. He was merciless with them. And I found myself feeling sorry for them, and feeling apologetic about how angry, how evil he was being with them, until I had to kick myself and remind myself they had admitted what he had gotten them to admit, that they were ruining the lives of several hundred people—they personally were ruining the lives of several hundred people every month. And I was feeling sorry for them! It was the first time he had ever managed to get them into a situation where the press was present. And he knew all the questions to ask, he was nasty about it, he was rhetorical. He likes these rolling phrases. He issues press releases that are impossible! And press releases that run on, on legal-sized paper, single-spaced, with no margin, running to five or six pages front and back, with just all sorts of rhetorical shit, and not getting—in press release, you have to do what The New York Times thing used to be on news stories. You’ve got the who, what, why and when in the first sentence, and then you elaborate it in waves. I hate that kind of writing, but press release has to be that.
Right. So that you chop what you don’t need.
And with his […] you’d have a page and a half of the rhetoric before you get to what the thing is about!
Be swimming through. Sure.
And, of course, SIR [Society for Individual Rights] blistered him at the Mattachine conference, I mean, at the NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] conference in ’67, because there were no press there. Well, first, Kameny didn’t want to allow the press there…
Where was the ’67 conference?
It was in the basement of… The two universities there, what’s…
What’s the other one? Similar sounding name. [Ed.: Georgetown University.]
Oh, dear. I don’t know D.C. at all.
I think it was the basement of George Washington. And there had been no press coverage. And Kameny said, “Well, I sent out press releases…”
Oh, God! [Laughs]
And they said, well, yeah, shit. Those press releases won’t get anybody there!
On Ernestine Eckstein and Biracial Relations
How about Ernestine Eckstein?
Ernestine Eckstein? Doesn’t ring a bell?
Eckstein. She was a black woman who was a vice-president of the Daughters about ’64–’65. Do you know her at all? What fascinated me about her was she was like the first person of color, it seems, who was involved in the movement that far back.
But to be involved substantially, no, I don’t recall having heard the name.
I’ve seen her written about in a couple of things.
That was about the time that the Daughters of Bilitis dissolved.
’64–’65? I thought that wasn’t until ’70, when [Barbara] Grier and [Rita] Laporte came in. ’69-’70. And Martha Shelley.
I’ll have to check those out.
Sure. No problem. But if you don’t know her, that’s fine.
The Knights of the Clock… [Ed.: An interracial homophile organization.]
Right. I’ll want to talk to Dorr [Legg] about that.
…Merton Bird, who was the founder of that. Now one thing about Dorr’s claims of earlier dates. There were several blacks involved in that, but the total number of people involved was probably not more than 12 or 13.
In the Knights of the Clock?
Uh-huh. I’ve talked to several of them.
That’s what, ’49–’50?
Well, Dorr has dated it as ’47–’48–’49–’50. His secretary/treasurer records, which I examined, of which Don Slater, who had stolen them, wouldn’t let me photocopy, but I made notes, show it started in June of ’51. Dorr makes all sorts of claims otherwise, and he got very angry at me recently, when privately I said that I had looked at those. He said, “Well, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t care what you saw.” Now it is probable that Merton Bird had incorporated the name for other purposes earlier. But no one who has done research has ever been able to find any record of the incorporation. [Ed.: The California Secretary of State database of incorporations does not list Knights of the Clock.]
Merton Bird still alive?
I don’t know, but I don’t think so. Dorr’s longtime roommate, whose name I can’t remember at the moment, was black. [Ed.: In his profile of Legg in Before Stonewall (2002), Wayne. R. Dynes names Legg’s lover “Marvin E.,” sometimes confused with Merton Bird.] And there were a few black members of Mattachine here, but none in any prominent position. But this is one of the real problems in almost all approaches to movement history now. One is expected to have balances that didn’t exist! So I prepared a talk on black and women’s participation in the early movement for the American History Association meeting in Chicago a while back. But it didn’t get on the program, so I had three people that showed up, and they were more interested in socializing, so I never gave the talk.
What a shame!
And I got [Martin] Duberman a little upset. I sent him a copy of it, but I said ultimately, it is the responsibility of blacks or of women, or of Latinos, or so on, to involve themselves in the movement. And if they don’t, no amount of guilt-tripping on the part of white males will do anything about it. Granted that there is chauvinism among a lot of white males, and even those who have worked in the civil rights movement still have some chauvinism. I have. But you can’t drag them in by the hair.
Right. And, I mean, that, it’s an issue that concerns me a lot too.
And in general, there have been almost no gay organizations that I know of—movement organizations, now that’s excepting some social groups, some bars—where the door was not open. That’s not to say that there weren’t some prejudiced people inside the door, but the majority were not. And the majority of the organizations have made a commitment on this field, in this area, but it becomes an empty commitment when there are no blacks around. We had one black schoolteacher in PRIDE [Personal Rights in Defense and Education] (The Advocate started as a newsletter of PRIDE here), and when we planned demonstrations or parties, we asked him if he would go to the bars down on Washington and Adams. He… “I never go down there!” [Laughs] He was a white black. And so a couple of the rest of us had to go down there and pass them out. Well, the response we got was usually, “Well, it’s nice you come out when you want something, but how come we never see you any other time?” Well, Okay, that’s a valid point, but we’re also busy!
Well, it’s something that I’m trying to be careful with in the book in general, because I don’t want to get involved in revisionist history and trying to do it the politically correct way, but by the same token I want to make sure that I’m not overlooking people who did have substantial contributions.
Well, if you can get by Don Slater, ask him to talk to him and Tony.
Tony Reyes. They’re still together. Tony was one of the incorporators of ONE. He was a silent partner, but he did two or three covers for the magazine, which is at least a notable contribution.
Right. And you said he was gorgeous.
He brought a number of friends around to most of ONE’s parties. And he supported Don all these years…
…so Don could work at it. Usually holding down two or three jobs.
Sure. That was the thing with [Frank] Kameny too, wasn’t it? I mean, because he couldn’t get a job as an astronomer, he was another one who was really dependent on the kindness of strangers to be able to support himself doing all these other things. Another point I just remembered.
Dale Jennings had a Chinese lover. He brought out tea and cookies when we met at his house, but he was never introduced.
Really a Chinese wife. [Laughs] That was a common term then.
[…] I had understood that a black or Indian woman was the one who had suggested organizing the group that became the DOB [Daughters of Bilitis]. I’m certain I heard that several times, but the last time I asked Phyllis [Lyon] and Del [Martin], they said that was not true. But Phyllis and Del have rewritten the history to a point where they were the founders, and they ignore the fact entirely that Helen Sandoz was the first president.
On Helen Sandoz and Stella Rush
Oh, wow. There’s a name I’ve never heard.
Died a few years ago [Ed.: b. 1920; d. 1987]. And her partner I think may be dead now too [Ed.: Stella Rush; b. 1925]. Although she came up behind me—I hadn’t seen her for years—at the Long Beach Festival about three years ago, put her hands up—”Guess who?” I looked at her—”Stella, I thought you were dead!” Well, that’s a terrible thing to say, it just came out like that. [Laughs] She looked as if she died when I said it.
That’s a great story!
But I haven’t heard from her since. We had a nice visit for two days, and she was—she was the first lesbian I ran around with who flirted loudly on the streets. I mean… when we went out with Barbara Gittings in Fred [Frisbie]’s car, every time we passed a woman on the street, Stella would whistle, “Hi, babe!” [Ed.: Kepner tells the rest of the story here] Tall, thin.
And this is in the ’60s?
Fifty-six or -seven.
Oh, wow. Boy, there’s a woman ahead of her time!
I didn’t even enjoy being around guys who did that.
Now are we talking about Helen or Stella now.
Stella [aka] Sten Russell.
Oh, okay. I’ve heard that name.
And she was on the staff of ONE and on the staff of The Ladder. They were both tall and thin. And they were the first women I met—I would have marked them both down as butches. And women in those days really were either/or.
Although Donna, our treasurer, who died last year said that wasn’t true. At least, she said it wasn’t true in her circle. But her lover was definitely the femme.
[Laughs] Although she wouldn’t admit it.
No, well, I bet she wouldn’t. Because I’ve seen pictures of Donna Smith, and I wouldn’t have characterized her as butch.
In [the film] Word Is Out. [Ed.: He confuses this with Before Stonewall (1984) in which both Smith and Kepner appear.] And—wonderful person. But Stella and Sandy [Helen Sandoz’s nickname]—when Stella first heard about the It Club, a long-lasting lesbian bar at 7th or 8th & Vermont, and with the Open Door across the street, which was another one, a little rougher, and they were both kind of rough.
What time period are we talking here. Early ’50s?
From the ’40s through the early ’70s. And [Russell, who] was working as a county engineer, […] came to the bar in jeans, suit and engineer boots. Well, she was typed right off! And it was like in heaven—fresh meat comes in, and… there’s something that’s just absolutely instantly recognizable about someone who’s never been in a bar before. When I went into Li Po’s in [San Francisco’s] Chinatown, it was crowded, and I sort of breathed and I went into the door… “This is my first time.” And someone [said], “Honey, we never would have guessed!” [Laughs]
Kind of like a deer caught in the headlights sort of thing?
[Laughs] So she enjoyed it so much that she went home and the next day, she rushed home before, didn’t come directly from work, rushed home and cleaned up, and got all dressed up in what, unknowing to her, was a femme outfit…
Oh, God. And confused the hell out of everybody.
And going kiki was—it wasn’t confusion, it was the unforgivable sin! And she said she thought some of those women were going to kill her! They had related to her, and she had gone kiki.
It’s pronounced that way, not keekee? Kaikai, not keekee?
I’ve heard it pronounced both ways. I’ve always pronounced it kaikai, and it’s sometimes spelled kaikai.
Okay. I’ve just seen kiki. But I know what you’re saying. [Ed.: Bruce Rodgers’s The Queen’s Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon (1972) lists two spellings: kiki and kyky.]
I think that the pronunciation is regional. See, we didn’t have anything to nationalize our jargon.
Of course! That makes perfect sense.
And I found that, when I came out, people from St. Louis and Kansas City were totally different in the words they used. Boston was kind of like New York, but Philadelphia was different. Backwoods. The East Coast didn’t use terms like pervert and faggot and fairy, and so on. And still do. And they’ve put those back into the movement, and queer. But away from Boston and Massachusetts, the term gay was used. But it was apparently never used in New York [Laughs], and so on. Just those sort of things.
And it varied from class to class. Now, let’s see, before I got off on Stella and Sandy…
Oh. They said that in two or three or several years in the gay life, when they found one another, it was the first time they felt free to be themselves.
Helen and Stella.
Yeah. That, if I come home, and I’ve had a hard day at work, and I want a shoulder to cry on, that shoulder will be there. And if she’s had a hard day, and wants a shoulder to cry on, it will be there. In bed, we can do what we feel like! And we can be reciprocal, it doesn’t have to be all this damn role-playing. But that was rare. The women that I found who weren’t into that were generally in the bohemian circles. But apparently also in some of the classier circles. And Donna and her crowd—when you go out, you dress up. And the rougher crowd didn’t dress up, although the femme was expected to.
On Guy Strait and Dean Corll
How about Guy Strait?
His seems like a very sad story at the end.
Yes, very sad story. He, even more than Hal, reveled in the language of degradation. Visited […] St. Louis, the Gomorrah on the Mississippi, and Kansas City, Sodom on the Mississippi. Using perversion and all of these terms, and so on, and just really rubbing it in. And I think really feeling that way, but it was also part of the attitude with less class that come out of the French decadence. Being in the gutter is the ultimate glory. [Laughs] You get away from all of this prissy, formal society, and just revel in the gutter. Also called slumming.
He was eventually brought up on child molestation—or not child molestation, but child pornography charges, was he not?
I’ve talked to dozens of kids—I’m not a boy lover.
We’ll talk about that, too.
But I’ve talked to dozens of kids who had been through the thing, through Guy Strait’s operation, and with no exception, they said that Guy was gentle, was considerate, was helpful. They usually had sex with him, but if they wanted to. It was a matter of consent.
When you’re talking boys, we’re talking like 14, 15?
Fourteen or 15. I don’t remember hearing about any that were much younger than that. Maybe 12 or 13 sometimes, but rare. The kids in Vanguard, […] said that their average member was 11 or 12, but I didn’t see any of them that looked under 16—and I saw quite a few of them—and that their average member, they said, had been earning their living on the streets of San Francisco for at least three years…
And this is, what, mid ’60s?
Mid ’60s. And this was astonishing, because almost all of our organizations had a rule that we don’t even talk to anyone who’s underage. And suddenly, this organization showed up. Militant—in ’66, using the psychedelic artwork, the Anglo-Saxon language, the anarchical Marxist slogans that came after Stonewall. But they were—all the Stonewall designs, Vanguard looked like a post-Stonewall publication.
Fascinating. Did Guy Strait start Vanguard?
He didn’t start it, but he was the first one they came to. They did get some help from Hal Call, too, but Hal Call was kind of prissy about it. And SIR [Society for Individual Rights] was kind of scandalized by them. And they were scandalized—they were also anti-Establishment, revolutionary, and so on. A couple of them were handsome and real brilliant kids.
This is in the Vanguard?
Yeah. But Guy Strait called himself a dirty old man—one of his company names was DOM Publications.
What was the name of the organization he started in ’61? He had an organization, not SIR, but something before…
League for Civil Education. Guy complained, as several others had—I had talked to Ted Rolfs, a seaman who was in the film Before Stonewall into trying to join Mattachine. But he went down there, and he said, “They’re too fucking conservative, they’re too fucking respectable (and they’re not respectable at all), and you come down there, and you want to volunteer to do something for the movement, and Hal Call puts you to assembling menus that he’s printed up as a private printing job for some restaurant, or some other private printing job that’s his personal business!” Well, Guy Strait got sick of that, and led the first breakaway from Mattachine, which became the League for Civil Education, published several issues of the LCE News, which evolved from the newsletter format toward the tabloid format, and then changed into the Citizens News and Cruise News & World Report. And U.S. News & World Report sued them to force them to abandon that name, which they did.
And then when the affair burst, with the [“Candy Man”] in Houston…
Oh, Dean Corll?
Yeah. The suspicion was immediately there that anybody who had anything to do with minors was shipping them back and forth across the country. All this mythology that’s supposed to be what NAMBLA is doing, of shipping thousands of kids. Absolute bullshit!
And that they’ve got these catalogs, and so on. And so anybody who dealt with kids was assumed to have gotten some from Corll or sent some of them to Corll. And some kids who break loose do get around the countryside. So it was quite possible that some kids who were killed by Corll had also been in one or another catalog or had visited Guy Strait or something of that sort. So nearly everybody who was involved with boy porno got arrested, on generally trumped-up charges. And it died out, and I really felt the whole movement was going to get it then. And so did a lot of people. Dorr [Legg] wrote an article, using the—let’s see, a very good phrase about… a haunting monster, or something like that, rising up and destroying us. I can’t think of the phrase. And I referred to the phrase in one article I wrote on it. Guy was a pleasant hayseed, another Texan. I’m not sure Strait was his real name.
Oh, I wouldn’t think so. [Ed: An Elemer (sic) Guy Strait, b. 25 Mar 1920, Dallas, is listed in the Texas Birth Index. A Guy Strait, 10 y.o., appears in the 1930 U.S. Census in Dallas. A Guy Strait with a 25 Mar 1920 birth date, born in Texas, is listed in the California Death Records, d. 25 Mar 1987, San Francisco.]
[Laughs] But I don’t have any information that it wasn’t. He joked about, and it wasn’t really a joke, he had gotten too involved in the homophile movement to have time to be a homosexual. And he was one of those who believed that sex is what it is, and all this talk about culture or community or all of that is just so much bullshit. Prissy nonsense. All these silly queens have to go to the opera or the ballet to be respectable. [Laughs] He thinks that’s the only reason they do it. All this talk about art and such. So he was militantly lowbrow. Basically a nice guy, who made a business out of it, and when he was in jail, he had serious health problems, and required some serious medicine, which was not made available to him.
When was he in jail? ’71?
He was in prison from a few months after the Corll case broke in Houston…
That’s like ‘73? [Ed.: Strait was arrested 01 Sep 1973 and then went underground. The original charges seem to have been dropped. But by May 1977 he had been convicted and given 10–20 years for “molesting one of three foster children of an associate in Rockford, IL shortly after filming them in pornographic movies.” (Chicago Tribune, 17 May 1977, p. 8)]
Yeah, back in Illinois or Missouri. And for several years. Clark Polak was the only one who kept in touch with him, and kept supporting him some. Clark finally helped get him out early, with a sort of promising a job and a residence, and so on. He was required not to live in any major city, and lived in Chino for a while.
Which is not a major city. [Laughs]
By any stretch.
Or anywhere near one. And…
On Clark Polak
He [Polak] died fairly recently?
He [Guy Strait] came over to the Archives one night, when we had an art show on, and a reception for the art show, and a meeting planning, I think planning a March on Washington or something like that, and obviously wanted to talk to me, and I was in the middle of several other things, and we held a kind of off-handed conversation for about an hour, largely about Clark Polak. And after a half-hour it suddenly sunk in on me that I was using present tense and Guy was using past tense.
And Clark had committed suicide a couple days before. And—we had been talking and talking and talking, and I had completely missed this.
About as bad as the time I counseled one transsexual. And I kept thinking, “this poor little, mousy thing.” I always thought that all transsexuals wanted to be [a] Floradora showgirl!
[End of Tape 2, Side 2]
[Tape 3, Side 1]
Again, very opinionated. Very loud, very inflexible. Clark heard his parents argue several times when he was a kid, where the argument usually ended up with the father saying that the mother should have gotten a goddamn Lysol douche, or something like that—that the last thing they needed was another kid. Especially Clark. And that seemed to have been enormously formative. He was cute the first time I met him, at NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations].
In ’66, in San Francisco. Brash. Came on with the forwardness that can only come from Brooklyn, although he came from Philadelphia.
And made an offer to me, which I think he meant to be very generous, but I found it insulting. He seemed to know that I had a lot of unsold copies of Pursuit and Symposium sitting around. And he offered to take them off my hands for five cents apiece. Well, at the printers, they had cost me about 50 cents apiece, and I was selling them for a dollar. And five cents apiece [Laughs], I mean, I would rather have thrown them away! But he would have gotten them out. And it probably was, knowing a little more about the economics of magazine distribution, it probably was a generous offer. Not terribly generous. But also, he made it with such a brashness—his manner was insulting. Where I don’t think he intended it to be. And it became more so. As I say, he was cute then. The next time I saw him… do you remember the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers?
I’m sorry. That’s before my time.
In the underground press? Well, he had had a very bad skin problem. Had a straggly beard and straggly hair, which was just sort of all over the place. And it almost seemed as if he was working overtime to make himself look ugly. He was one of several people that I’ve known who picked up hustlers, and who picked them up in an insulting manner, almost as if they were inviting the hustler to beat the shit out of them, or rob them. And with some, that becomes a motivation.
Given his past history, with his parents and such, you can understand why.
But there’s the extra motivation of hoping that if I can be nasty as hell with this guy, and if he likes me anyhow, that maybe he really likes me for me.
Yeah. I’ve seen that.
So I saw him with some beautiful… Do you remember the series, Rich Man, Poor Man?
Who played the blond kid?
Oh, Nick Nolte. [Ed.: See still from the series.]
Nick Nolte. Was beautiful to start with. He isn’t anymore.
But he was beautiful then. And one kid was with Clark for quite awhile, I thought was Nick Nolte!
Except he was a little prettier. And he had that same James Dean-ish body language that Nolte had in that. And that I’ve never seen in Nolte in anything else.
Right, right. Little swagger. Oh, yeah.
But Clark would just almost deliberately insult them constantly, insult them in front of people, be nasty with them. And he got ripped off constantly. He had an incredible art collection. He ran—when he first came to L.A., he ran a small art gallery on La Cienaga when La Cienaga was all art galleries.
So he didn’t stay in Philadelphia forever?
No. He moved here around ’70, early ’70. Or at least I ran into him here in early ’70. He may have been here for a little while then. The legal… Clark fought a lot of legal cases on censorship, and on the right of gays to gather in bars, and to be served in bars. He paid the costs of several such cases in Florida, in New Jersey, in New York and in Pennsylvania.
Did that come before or after Dick Leitsch and some of the others who were there in New York, who were trying to do the same thing?
It would come largely concurrently, and more after, but Polak and Leitsch were never friends. They were just—did not like one another at all. Both for strategy and personal. Clark was—Leitsch was not abrasive; Leitsch was elegant, smooth—overbearing.
He was quite a politician, wasn’t he?
Yeah. And Clark was strident, overbearing. A good organizer as long as everybody else stayed out of his way, or did things entirely at his bidding, and entirely his way. And at his time. If he’s ready to go out the door, don’t be standing in his way when he goes out the door.
Since they were both from Philadelphia, how did he and Barbara [Gittings] get along? They would have been contemporaries, right?
They worked together some, but I don’t think they quite—there were real difficulties. But they didn’t become enemies. So far as I can tell. Here, Clark helped start Stonewall Democratic Club. He would pay the bills, he would get the printing done. He would write the leaflets, and so on. And if anybody else tried doing any of this, he would quit. And for a while, Stonewall Democratic literature was all over the place. You could walk down the street and pick it up. And from Pasadena to Santa Monica. But once other people tried to do things, and not do them his way… Same thing with the Gay Rights chapter, and same thing with the Archives. He set the Archives up.
In the space on Hudson.
And he paid the initial lease, $3,600; he paid for the shelves, the mylar on the windows, the sign on the window. Insisted we change—the name was the Gay Archives. I had called it first the Western Gay Archives. Then the Gay Archives. Then he insisted on using the term “National.” Well, because there had been some discussion of a national gay archives around Howard Brown, with [Foster] Gunnison, [Frank] Kameny and Gittings and Jim Levin on the board, I felt that we should not use that name without at least getting their permission. Brown had died without leaving a will, and left it sort of uncentered…
Howard Brown, the doctor, died intestate?
So we got—not Kameny, but Gittings, Gunnison and Levin to agree to be on our board. It was never much more than in name only…
So they were at arms’ length, then, obviously.
And so with that, I felt that it was legitimate to use that name, since they were a majority of the board that had been there. And, but Clark just didn’t see this as a problem. He got very angry that I was even fucking around, taking two weeks [Laughs] getting their permission. But he had been close to Kameny, and got along with the other two, or the other three. He wrote excellent art criticism. Very sophisticated, for the L.A. Free Press before it turned into just a foreign publication. When it was still an underground publication. But with some prominent writers.
We’re talking like early ’70s?
That would be, yeah, the early ’70s. And he had—he got me in to catalog three 30-foot shelves of very expensive artwork to give to UCLA, and I said, “Look, you’re putting all this money into setting up the Archives. We would like that!” “Well, they’re tax deductible.” “Well, so are we!” “Well, you wouldn’t be interested in those.” I managed to talk him out of two or three little pamphlet-like ones, about artists who were overtly gay and said so.
What a shame.
But even the expensive books on them I couldn’t get from him. And UCLA had all that crap. They would get stuff like that every… twice a year, at least. And he left an enormous collection of original artwork. He had—are you familiar with Frank Stella?
I’m familiar with the name, but that’s about it.
He’s a constructionist who does, let’s say. You start with something like a large canvas, and then you add a metal cutout that projects out from the canvas, and then two or three other metal cutouts that stick out at odd angles from that one. A major contemporary American artist. Then his brother is also. But [Polak] had eight or ten of his originals. And those are pricey. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. And his family, which held him in utter contempt, got those, and probably called the junkman.
How awful. What about the end of Clark’s life? You were talking that he committed suicide. What led to that, do you know?
Apparently Guy [Strait] said that he thought that Clark had gotten some bad street LSD.
When are we talking now? What time period?
This would be…
Seventy-…between ’79 and ’81, I am not certain of exact dates. [Ed.: 18 Sep 1980 per California Death Records.] He pulled both of his Cadillac convertibles, in good condition, one black and one gold, into his garage…
Sealed up all the gaps in the wall, and there had been several, and turned on the motors.
And you were saying Guy thought it was because of bad LSD?
Guy thought it was bad LSD. But I would think that that involves some very careful forethought and being kind of cool about it.
Yeah, sounds like it.
I had been in that garage a couple of times, when the doors were closed, and you could see light through in several places. And it would take a while patching all of those cracks.
Sure. It was a planned-type thing. Interesting.
And I assumed that with bad LSD, you’d probably be in a kind of wild state. I’ve never been on LSD—I’m afraid of letting go. I would like the experiment, but it’s just like—on a mountain or cliff. I don’t want to put my hands in someone else’s. I will crawl, and I will do it inefficiently myself, but just to give my hand and let someone else pull me up. [Laughs]
Sure, I can understand that.
On Richard Inman
How about Richard Inman? Who I also saw as Robert Inman [at the Archives]. Which is correct?
I haven’t heard of Robert.
That’s what I thought.
Gunnison and Polak were his chief backers. He was a cab driver. He was a little on the wacky side, but he was daring beyond belief for those days. He sued Gerstein, the state attorney general [Ed.: Technically, Richard Gerstein was the State Attorney in Dade County, Florida. Before he died in 1992, he defended actor Paul Reubens in a charge of indecent exposure. (New York Times, 27 Apr 1992)]; sued the local officers, and so on. He kept up a constant barrage of publicity.
Are we talking like mid ’60s?
This was in the mid ’60s with what was… let’s see, I don’t remember the sequence. I think it was initially the Florida Mattachine. And then became the Athenaeum Society. It could be the other way around. [Ed.: It was initially the Athenaeum Society.] But he kept up a barrage of litigation…
In the Kameny tradition?
Mm-hm. But Kameny is always very level-headed. With Inman, it was kind of—as if it might have come out of an LSD session. I mean, you just never knew who he was going to sue first, or why. But he got a lot of publicity, and the Florida Mattachine was famous for a while. Even though he was probably the only local member with the help of Jack Nichols, who was Warren Adkins then, and who was also a prime person in the Washington Mattachine. And Foster Gunnison and Clark Polak supported him.
Where in Florida was he? What city did he come out of, do you know?
I think Miami. But I would have to check that. Have to look in the file room. [Ed.: Per Sears, Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948–1968 (1997), Inman was born in Tampa (18 Oct 1926) and moved to Miami in the 1940s.]
Yeah. ’Cause I haven’t seen anything on that. All I knew is Florida. And what finally happened with him?
That is a good question. Jack Nichols might know. Jack Nichols is back in Coral Gables. [Ed.: A Richard Allen Inman, b. 18 Oct 1926 in FL, d. 03 Feb 1985 in Long Beach, CA, according to the Social Security Death Index and California Death Records.]
Still alive, do you know?
Yes. I got pictures from him [Nichols]. He was in terribly bad health, and nursed himself back to vigorous health, so I have a couple of swim trunk pictures of him. He shows the age in the wrinkles, but a pretty good body.
And a real nice guy. He’s furious about [Martin] Duberman’s book, Stonewall .
Really? In what sense? He feels shortchanged?
Well, the choice of people was strange.
Gunnison was not that… in fact, only one person, who also died recently of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore…
…Craig, was clearly at Stonewall. Sylvia Rivera was or was not, depending on who you ask. John O’Brien, our board president, who works at a motel at night—you could probably interview him all night at the motel—was at Stonewall, and he says he did not believe that Sylvia was there.
At any point? Or the first night of the riots?
Well, at least not the first night. John was there the first night, but late. Mike Itkin was there the second night, and from then on.
In [the film documentary] Before Stonewall, right at the end where Craig Rodwell is talking with someone, is that Randy Wicker? Do you remember?
Randy Wicker was rather opposed to what was going on. And he was one of those who, along with Leitsch—it was probably the only time he ever agreed with Leitsch—was trying to cool it. Get people to behave properly.
But there was another person with Rodwell right at the end of that film. He was kind of a taller fellow, still looked relatively young, dark hair…
What film was that?
Before Stonewall. Right at the very end, where they’re pointing up to the sign that says Bagels, Etc.
And who—I knew one was Craig, obviously. But the other one never was really made clear. And I thought that it was Randy Wicker, but I don’t know.
No, this was dark hair. So it can’t have been him. I don’t know who it was, but that’s fine. At least I know who it’s not, so that’s fine. And Randy Wicker’s next.
The other one, Marsha Johnson, was there, and was one of those who sort of started it. Although Wicker claims now that a couple of agent provocateurs, who were not gay, started the attack, the counter-attack.
Interesting! There’s a thought I never thought of.
But that would sort of fit with Randy’s politics, since he feels that the riot was a mistake. And there were a lot of people early on in gay lib, including John O’Brien, whom I felt weren’t gay. These people came out of the radical movement, and I felt that they had [been] sent in by the Communists or the Trotskyites, to make hay in the gay community for a while.
And not until I got to know them fairly well did I realize the radical movement was one of the biggest closets in the country. And a severe closet!
Audre Lorde, I know, talked about that, to some degree, again in Before Stonewall. You know, that once you have a movement in place, you’re going to have those other people whose differences are not being articulated, who are going to gather strength from that and be able to spin out on their own. I remember her talking about that.
On Randy Wicker
What more can you tell me about Randy Wicker?
He came to L.A. in about, in the mid ’50s. [He was a]lso Carl B. Hayden. [Ed.: Wikipedia gives his name as Carl Gervin Hayden Jr.] He was then, I think, a student at the University of Texas.
Now, he came out from where? From New York?
From Texas or from New York, whichever. Came to L.A. He made the mistake, although I don’t think he gave a damn, of referring to Dorr as “Miss Legg.” And Dorr despises, and has written editorials attacking the idea of all of this feminine terminology. And that just has nothing to do with homosexuality. Well, it does have something to do with it. [Laughs] But it doesn’t mean that all homosexuals… I went back in the closet because after about three or four months, “Jimmy, if you’re gay, act gay!”
What period of time is this?
That was in the summer of ’43. After I had been out for three months. I traveled with the queens, I enjoyed being with the queens, but I never made the grade as a queen. I never learned how to swish! [Laughs] In fact, when I do speaking engagements now, unless it’s warm, I bring a woolen rainbow shawl along with me. I’ve said, “I never learned how to swish, but I brought this along because it’s an expert.” It usually gets a good laugh.
So Randy came out, and it was during the Caryl Chessman thing, when there was pressure on Gov. Pat Brown to pardon Chessman. And Randy was very insistent that ONE must hire a plane and get leaflets and leaflet Los Angeles demanding that Brown pardon Chessman. Well, Dorr wanted to know what the fuck that had to do with [Laughs] homosexual concerns. And Randy thought it was quite obvious. I didn’t see that it was obvious, but I thought it could have been fun. If we didn’t have to pay for the flight or the leaflets, I would have gone along. I was interested in other things. I wasn’t that concerned about pardoning Chessman. I’m not hot on the death penalty, but that seemed like one case where it might be justified, if ever. And then he went back to then publishing the Wicker Report…
This is in New York, like early ’60s?
And I came across a mention—oh. I just got a newsletter from him a couple of days ago, and he wanted me to phone him instantly when I got it, and reverse the charges, because he wanted to talk about it at length. His memorial to George, the prettiest of his several boyfriends. And George, who had told me that he had AIDS, had crawled into bed with me once there, and we did a bit of hugging. And I really felt like—I hadn’t had sex with anybody at the time, but I almost felt like I ought to do it.
What period of time are we talking about now?
This would be about six years ago. We embraced in bed for a while, and it didn’t go further than that. But a very likeable guy. And extravagantly pretty. And in the newsletter—none of the pictures show how pretty George was. [Laughs] All just seemed to be the wrong angle. Or bad reproductions, too. But it was a moving newsletter, and he wanted to talk about it. And since I received it, I figured I couldn’t call him unless I knew I had at least two hours to spare, because it was going to be a long call.
Right, right. Yeah, I saw, in fact, I pulled that file in addition to a lot of others, and I saw there was a newsletter from ’92. So this was his ’93 newsletter, then, that you just received?
The last one was about Marsha [Johnson]’s death. And then the police hassle. And there was a little more about Marsha in this one, because they found a guy who had witnessed a bunch of fag-bashers attacking Marsha…
And that it was foul play? Frustrating.
On Craig Rodwell
I pushed very hard with [Martin] Duberman to make sure that he emphasized Craig [in Stonewall (1993)]. Because I feel that Craig was the one who really transformed what would have been an ordinary bar raid with a little bit of resistance into what it became. Shouting “Gay Power” and drawing it up. The first bar I went to, tried to go to, had a raid like that. And the queens resisted.
Is it Li Po’s that you’re talking about?
No, the Black Cat [in San Francisco]. Not to be confused with the Black Cat here [in L.A.].
Okay. I didn’t know there was one here.
The one here was a short-lived gay bar. But there was resistance, but it never developed into any unified thing. And so there were lots of gay bar raids where some of those arrested resisted. But it never added up to anything. It never got that catalytic effect. And I think Craig was the one who transformed it. Also, the bookstore was a revolutionary thing. Without that, it’s quite possible that it might have been another 20 years before we really developed gay bookstores as such, instead of just adult bookstores, or tried to get larger gay sections in regular bookstores. The other, which I hadn’t known about but I read in The Mayor of Castro Street, was that Craig was the one who revolutionized…
[Randy Shilts’s 1982 book about] Harvey [Milk]! Yes. Fascinating.
And that was a noted contribution. And the East Coast, the Mattachine New York, and most of the other East Coast groups, were almost more conservative, and much more respectable, than the San Francisco Mattachine. And Craig was the first one to break with [that]—Craig and Randy [Wicker], separately. Randy did it in a disorganized way, but Craig’s organization, the Homophile Youth Movement in the Neighborhoods [HYMN], and his publication, HYMNAL, was a real break. At the ’68 Credentials Committee meeting in Chicago, we were there four days arguing about which of the 21 applicant organizations we would permit to attend our precious meeting. And there was a long discussion on HYMN. And the majority were excluding them, because they didn’t follow the [Frank] Kameny-[Barbara] Gittings-[Forest] Gunnison line. And the one New York Mattachine meeting I went to, on my way back from ONE’s tour of Europe, Curt DeWees and Al DeDion had tried to talk me into voting for [Don] Cory for President of Mattachine. And knowing that [Albert] Ellis would come along [as part of] the package…
…they gave me a proxy. Well, I was not a member of New York Mattachine. I would have considered it very—the height of impropriety to exercise a proxy…
For an organization to which you didn’t belong!
So I just left it in my pocket. And they were rather annoyed at that. I didn’t entirely explain my reasons to them. And that was when [Dick] Leitsch and his predecessor, who he was together with, Arthur…
No. When they took over, Leitsch was sort of second in command in that group initially. But there was an invasion during the meeting of the outsider/young crowd, led by Randy and…
And Rodwell. And they sort of looked in—about 15 or 20 of them, enough to tilt the balance of the meeting if they had stayed—and they went, “Same old boring shit. Let’s go.” And I thought that was wonderful. Because it was an awful meeting. And I’ve been to lots of awful meetings.
’68? Chicago? That’s the one that was awful?
No, I think it was ’65. Or could I have gone to New York for another purpose that time? I think it was when I was on the way back from the ONE European tour.
Okay. So ’65?
The ONE European tour was in ’65. Unless I went to New York for something else, but I don’t remember. I think it was ’65. And so what showed was that something new was developing in the New York gay community that was very, very different from this staid old bunch of closet queens who came to listen to all these fucking doctors tell them how sick they were, but that they shouldn’t be arrested for it.
And that’s where GAA [Gay Activists Alliance] and GLF [Gay Liberation Front] came about, right?
No, this was four years before that. Four years before Stonewall.
Okay. Now I’m with you. That’s right. ’Cause they were involved earlier.
Now, we already had this sort of thing on the West Coast. [M]ost of the organizations on the West Coast, even when they were led by fairly doctrinaire people, believed in pluralism. Most of the West Coast organizations felt that the purpose of NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] is to get together and trade notes. The Easterners, even though each general had a different set of marching orders for us, felt that NACHO is to be legislative. To tell the organizations what our goals should be, and what steps should be made in what order. We will have a demonstration against the exclusion of gays in the military on May 1. On June 15, we will do something else. And so on. And this will all be a nationwide strategy.
So it was more coordination of efforts.
And it sounded sensible.
Sounds sensible now.
But on the West Coast, we already recognized that we had an enormous[ly] diverse movement, and we had found that there are some advantages to […] that diversity. Even though there are problems too.
Let me take a break here. End of side.
[End of Tape 3, Side 1]
[Tape 3, Side 2]
He was very censorious…
He excluded any material from the store that he didn’t agree with. When A Different Light opened a few blocks away, and they carried some of the things that the feminists objected to, and they carried the boy-love material, among other things… When I was in Oscar Wilde [Bookshop], which I really felt and feel is one of our shrines. It’s an enormous piece of our history. But it was going—it was dying. Because they were too closed. The doors locked, you had to get buzzed in…
It’s up a couple of steps. You go up the steps and you sort of hit a buzzer, or stick your head through… Worse than the Archives! And I hate that! Pat [Allen] wants to keep people out. And we used to have a street walk-in place, and we had people in the Archives all the time, and we were open seven days a week from 10 or 11 in the morning ’til 2 in the morning.
Yeah. That’s rough.
And then after we closed, either John [O’Brien] or Ernie [Potvin] would bring some friends by. I was sleeping downstairs. But the…
How long did Oscar Wilde last?
Well, from ’66, I believe—it’s still going, I think.
Oh, is it? Oh, Okay.
It has survived him, but how long it will survive him I don’t know. It may loosen up. [Ed.: It closed 29 Mar 2009.]
So they kept those restrictive policies, then?
The main business goes to A Different Light, but […] for those who object to boy-love literature, then [Oscar Wilde] becomes the politically correct one to go to. And all sorts of other politically correct things. And several times, when people would ask about certain things, [they would be told,] “Well, we don’t carry that here, but you can get it at that boy-fuck store around the corner, A Different Light.”
How awful. Did [Rodwell] die of natural causes? He died of AIDS, didn’t he? I think I’ve got it in my files.
He had other problems. I’m not sure. I probably have it in my bio file.
I’ve got it mine too, I’m sure. [Ed.: He died of stomach cancer on 18 Jun 1993.]
Several [Laughs] hundred pages now. A little bio.
On Shirley Willer
All right. Let’s leave him and go to Shirley Willer.
[Laughs] Shirley was angry, she was fun. My first, strongest memory is at the  NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] conference in SIR [Society for Individual Rights] center, that I felt that she must have broken windows in the Ferry Building blocks and blocks away by shouting, “If you goddamn men would just stay out of the goddamn toilets for a while, […] this movement could get down to some serious concerns!” And then at the September ’67 meeting down here, I got into a discussion with her and Sandy [Helen Sandoz] and Stella [Rush] and Shirley’s lover…
Meredith Gray [aka Marion Glass]?
…and some other women, and asked about what those serious concerns were. And I was sort of chagrined, that I had simply not taken some of these things as [being] serious. And some of them were quite serious. And I had known women who had children, and who were having legal problems with them, but I just hadn’t added it up. And other things they raised.
There’s a story Shirley tells about a woman who apparently was independently wealthy, who spent, I think she said, upwards of half a million dollars—or it might have been a hundred thousand dollars, I can’t remember which [Ed.: The latter figure is given in Marcus, p. 133; see reference below]—to help her set up Daughters [of Bilitis] chapters all across the country for several years. But she didn’t identify that woman by name. Do you have any idea?
Shirley said that?
Mm-hm. Oh, that’s in Marcus’ book, Making History. She talks about this woman, who was apparently independently wealthy, and she would give her, like a check for five or six thousand dollars to start a chapter somewhere, you know, but they had to launder the money so that they wouldn’t know who she was, and I was wondering if you had any idea who that might be.
Well, there certainly were lots of women in that category. There…
Who have that kind of money? In the ’60s?
Oh. Well, in The Ladder, Barbara Grier’s account indicates that The Ladder died when the woman who had been backing it went through her funds because The Ladder switched its emphasis to feminism.
So it could have been the same woman, maybe? [Ed.: In Marcus, Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945–1990: An Oral History (1992), pp. 132–133, Willer states that the woman who underwrote her organizing efforts “financed the printing of The Ladder on slick stock, and because of her we were able to get the magazine into the hands of a major distributor….” Willer also states that “we” financed Frank Kameny’s livelihood for at least two years.]
And there were other—there are lots of women who have substantial…
Okay. I guess I just found it very peculiar that a woman who had that kind of money would have been willing, at that point in history, to plow that kind of money into the movement…
It’s not a large amount of money, really.
By my standards, it’s a lot.
I was going to say, in the ’60s, I certainly could have done pretty well with it, I’ll tell you. But I thought that was very interesting. Anything else on Shirley? She said she dropped out of the movement, basically, in like ’69, I think it was. Or maybe even ’68. [Ed.: 1968, per Marcus, p. 135.]
Later, she and another woman of about the same girth, Sandy Penn, were involved in Philadelphia groups. And when ONE organized in New York, ONE of New York was never intended as being much more than a name on Reed Erickson’s office door. And Dorr [Legg] showed up on the way to one of the trips of Europe, and held a meeting of ONE members in the New York area. And Shirley and Sandy Penn and others showed up. And, as Dorr tells it, they tried to take over the meeting and take over ONE of New York. I suspect that his version is highly colored. But his way of running an organization, at a distance, would not appeal to most politically active people.
On Dick Leitsch
He played an important part in the bar sit-in [Ed.: The “sip-in” on 21 Apr 1966 staged by the NY Mattachine to challenge a law barring service to homosexuals in bars]. He was one of the manipulators in the final NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] conference [Ed.: Held in 1970 in San Francisco]. And I rather think, as with Morris Kight, that Leitsch came to NACHO to bury it. I don’t know that, but there are several other people who feel that.
Well, he stayed away for several years, until like 1970, wasn’t it? He had never attended another conference.
He had bitterly opposed it. And the Conservative Caucus met in early morning, and got the next one to be in New York, and I don’t think there was any intention on Leitsch’s part to hold one in New York, but I don’t know that. That was the only time I saw him in action, and I was not taken with him. But there were a lot of people who were worse, at that one. Morris Kight came to NACHO deliberately to bury it, and said so beforehand. He helped recruit people, street people to come in and storm the battlements, and then he left town, so he wouldn’t be present to take the blame for it.
And wasn’t that the one where there was some priest who was dancing naked, or something that I read?
McKay Itkin. Who was one of the wonders of the movement.
He lived here for a while. In this front building.
Along with Muriel Marushka, who was a wonder too. [Laughs] Itkin had been part of an [Eastern] Orthodox group that changed its name many, many times, but advertised in the December ’54 ONE. It was then a Dominican group, sort of, that was pro-gay. But not connected with the Roman Rite Dominicans.
Breakaway from breakaway from breakaway from breakaway. Splinter, splinter, of splinter. And their name, and Itkin’s titles, and so on, changed by the week. [Ed.: See, in this regard, our profile of Wallace de Ortega Maxey.] I liked him, but I also had the feeling that if I was interested in the survival, or future, or well being of any organization, I should try very hard, and gently, to keep Itkin away from it. He was a person who tried hard to be creative, spent a good bit of time, and for the most of it, came out destructive. He resigned from the L.A. parade committee once. Four letters of resignation, all long-winded, in the names of organizations in which he and Muriel were generally the sole members. [Laughs] And then he announced at the next meeting that he was tired of L.A., and wanted to move to San Francisco, but couldn’t afford it. A collection appeared just by magic. Half of the people in the place were donating money to have him move to San Francisco. And he thought this was wonderful, so he sent a letter back to L.A. a little while later…
…that he was going to move back to L.A., and he could use some contributions.
No response at all. And I don’t think he ever got the point.
[Laughs] Too funny. What eventually happened to Leitsch, after all the…
He is still in the vicinity. He is talking about writing. He is bitter, and where did I hear this?
In the vicinity being New York?
Of the movement. Not in the movement. He was thinking about writing up his account of it. He was, I think, falsely accused of making off with Mattachine funds. And John […] O’Brien was one of those who kept spreading that, and John has backed off that. As nearly as I can gather, he was assigned to go to certain conferences, or to certain things, and spent his own money on the travel expenses, and then signed a Mattachine check to cover the expenses. And probably slighted the procedure, but where—I can’t get money for expenses out of Pat [Allen]. Pat signs checks now. I sent out a mailing, it was agreed that we would send out the mailing, and I can’t get money for stamps unless I can show a receipt for each person the thing was sent to. We send out a general mailing; you don’t keep a copy of every form letter you send out.
[Laughs] And I said, “Well, if I’ve got to make copies, then I’m going to charge for the copies too!”
Sure, sure. Craziness. How about Jim Owles?
I don’t think I ever met Jim Owles. So what you can find out about him you can find out from the literature…
Sure. I have some.
And I would also suggest asking John O’Brien.
Now, you would get a bad account, totally, from Leitsch or so on, and not, I think, from first-hand experience, although they had had clashes. But that was when John was one of the people at Stonewall who was stirring things up. One who knew the back alleys in the Village. [A]nd this was an old thing with radicals in New York; I’ve done it too: the police clean up an area, and you find your way through the back alleys of the building, things that are open, and you’re back in the area that they thought they just cleaned out. And you lead 57 people in. I had a press pass, and I would go through the police lines, but I’d be very careful to wait for the exact moment to go through the police lines when there were only one or two policemen standing there, and a big crowd that’s already in witch for them. And once I go through [Laughs], the other people, they go through, too. And so Leitsch and some of the others were trying to have John arrested.
On Martha Shelley and Lois Hart
How about Martha Shelley?
I never met Marsha Shelley. And someone was asking—yesterday, or the day before?—if she had said that she’s supposed to be out here now.
I had not heard that before. And John might know about that. She was not listed in the latest Stonewall 25 mailing, but there are a lot of prominent people who aren’t listed. It’s just who goes to their meetings.
Right, right. How about Lois Hart? Does that name ring a bell?
I never met her. Fairly impressed by the things I’ve read about her. [S]he was part of the movement until the changeover.
Right. But I haven’t found a whole lot of information about her.
Let’s see. Toby Marotta has quite a bit. [Ed.: Likely referring to The Politics of Homosexuality (1981).] And… From the—something—to the Courts, by one of the women in DOB [Daughters of Bilitis]. What was her name? [Ed.: He refers to Ruth Simpson’s From the Closet to the Courts: The Lesbian Transition (1976).]
Okay. We’ll come back to it.
On Morty Manford
I met him a couple of times. Very handsome, very personable. I think he was one of those who wrote an angry letter to—I won’t say the two shits who were running NGTF [National Gay Task Force, later renamed National Gay and Lesbian Task Force].
Didn’t hear a word, Jim.
I won’t say that. [Laughs] Protesting that several other people should have been included in that White House meeting, and describing me at length as one of those who should have been invited.
Which—the meeting in—last year?
The meetings NGTF arranged with the White House under Carter.
Okay. That was with Voeller and O’Leary and that bunch? Okay. [Ed.: The National Gay Task Force co-executive directors at the time of the (first) 26 Mar 1977 White House meeting, with Carter’s assistant Midge Costanza, were Jean O’Leary and Bruce Voeller.]
I… Let’s see. He [wrote] Superstar Murder, didn’t he?
I don’t—Manford? I didn’t know… was he a writer?
No, I’m confusing him with John Paul Hudson. Okay. There are several—I know John Paul Hudson and Morty Manford are two different people, but I keep crossing what particularly they did. One or both were sort of Morris Kight’s East Coast puppets for a long time. Not that they were exactly puppets, but Morris had them four [for?] months, and he was always consulting with them. They, Manford I believe, worked on the New Orleans Committee with Morris and others. And that again was a very creative thing that Morris did, and very important. Because the New Orleans gay community, apparently, would have let it drop in shame, and not even—there would have been no memorial, no funding for the dead or the injured…
Troy [Perry] has a very good account of that in his last book. [Ed.: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage (1991).]
But vague impression, except a very nice guy who did a lot of important things at a particular point. And with John Paul Hudson, I was slightly offended by the nasty treatment he made of Arthur Bell in Superstar Murder. He gave a portrayal of Bell that was just… kind of vicious and probably very accurate. [Ed.: Superstar Murder, often rendered Superstar ?Murder? with the subtitle What Happened to Good Queen Bess Her Last Night at the Cosmopolitan Baths?: A Prose Flick (1976).]
At that time, I was more admiring of Bell, and then when I read Dancing… No, I had read [Bell’s] Dancing the Gay Lib Blues [Ed.: Subtitled A Year in the Homosexual Liberation Movement (1971)] before, and I had felt kind of irritated…
…that Bell was getting an awful lot of personal grudges off his chest there. And I may well produce that kind of irritation when my history gets published, because I will—there will be a number of people whom I will say mixed things about. And most people want it all to be nice.
Right, right. My book will probably come out very much the same way, I think. I want to tell real…
Don’t tarnish our heroes.
Oh, heaven forbid!
And our heroes have feet of clay. I have too, and I will let my feet of clay show.
On Carl Wittman
How about Carl Wittman?
Wittman I saw at the December, end of December Free Party full conference in Berkeley, which is sort of a first national gay lib conference.
’69. That was two weeks after the L.A. Gay Lib had been organized. A large number of us went up there, and his Gay Manifesto was one of the prime things that had been written several months earlier. And I was distressed, partly—I liked much of it, but I was partly distressed with the bisexual resolution.
You add up his preachments, and what it comes out is that liberation means we must all be bisexual. And most gays reading it don’t notice that, but—or just brush over it. And I still tended to think that bisexuals, in the main, were people who either hadn’t made their minds up yet or hadn’t admitted it. And I still think that’s true of a large number of them. While I will also have to say that if a person tells me they are bisexual, then who am I to tell them they’re not? Now, if I know enough about them, and if I find out that this person is married, and that they’re using their wife badly to cover their gay life, and leading her through hell, like Somerset Maugham did with his wife—and with his male lovers—he made life insufferable for himself and everybody around him. By trying to pretend, as he phrased it, that he was three-quarters normal and only one-quarter queer. And he admitted to his nephew several times that really the percentage was the other way around. His nephew said, really, there was no percentage.
Now my theory is such that it tends to assume that we either are or aren’t. That is, gay or not. Bisexuals don’t fit comfortably into that theory, but that’s my problem, not theirs. So I… [Laughs] They don’t have to live by my theory. I wish they would! [Laughs]
Life often doesn’t work out that way. Any other impressions of Wittman?
Played an important role in the dance scene, and the teaching of dancing, and the movement toward gay mystique. A wonderful book title which the guy who wrote that book had no concept of.
Oh, yeah. That was a horrible book! [Ed.: Peter Fisher, The Gay Mystique: The Myth and Reality of Male Homosexuality (1972).]
I mean, to him, it’s—it’s sex behavior. And that’s all it was! The title was meaningless. And, contrary to Harry Hay’s having invented the Radical Faeries, Wittman held faerie circles, doing the things that the faerie circles are still doing, several years before Harry came up with the idea.
Do you think Harry knew…
And Olaf, who lives upstairs here, took Harry to his first faerie gatherings. [Ed.: Olaf Odegaard, artist. A Tom of Finland Foundation obituary mentions Kepner being Odegaard’s “best friend.”]
Okay. That answers that.
But Harry invented the Faeries.
Harry also invented the term “gay”…
He invented the term “homophile,” even though the Dutchman von Roemer invented it in 1902, and it was widely used in the European movement from at least 1925 on.
You’re just gonna take that halo off of Harry, aren’t you, Jim? [Laughs]
Also, Morris Kight invented it.
On Dick Michaels and The Advocate
How about Dick Michaels?
An awful person to work with.
You wrote under him in The Advocate for a couple of years, didn’t you?
Yeah. I was full-time on The Advocate for a couple of years. Without a title. I was doing most of the news. Bill Rand, his partner—and I made the motion that sold The Advocate to the two of them and Sam Winston for $5 or $10.
Sold it to them from whom? Oh, from PRIDE [Personal Rights in Defense and Education]?
It had been the PRIDE newsletter. And when a guy took over PRIDE to turn it into a therapy group, the founders simply came back after having left the organization, voted the organization out of existence, but before doing that, made a motion to sell The Advocate to Dick Michaels. Dick was a chemical trade journal editor. He was another one who knew that there is a proper way to do anything. And he usually knew what the proper way was.
And no one else did.
All of them do. [Laughs] I think that was what you said, wasn’t it? My hearing…
And that nobody else did. Yes.
He also was fond of the statement, “Get the law off our backs, and then I won’t have to go bowling with some faggot or dyke.” He said that frequently. [Frank] Kameny said things like that; that was Dick’s phrase. He played an enormously important role here. He built The Advocate into an important paper. It had begun to become a national paper. Dick never understood—he never had a whole concept of what the paper was. To him, the significant part of the paper was the front part, which was political. And the political part was focused on getting the police off our backs and changing the law, which is pretty much two parts of the same package. But he recognized that in order to sell the paper, you had to have all this crap in the back about theater and books and the want ads, and all of those things.
I was going to say, and the pink section and such. [Ed.: Cain refers to the entertainment pages of the San Francisco Chronicle that were printed on pink newsprint. Pink Section also was the name of the 1979–80 art-damaged band from San Francisco.]
Although he started the want ads—what was it called, Dick’s…
Trader Dick’s, yeah. And, so that the paper—there was never a holistic view of the paper until [David] Goodstein. Now Goodstein did have a holistic view. It wasn’t one that was entirely to my liking. It was too upscale, too snobbish. And unfortunately, where Goodstein thought that he would reach a million circulation by the end of the year, the people he was aiming at weren’t ready to pick up the paper for a long time. And the people who had been picking up the paper didn’t like what it turned into very quickly. So, a year and a half later, the circulation was about what it had been when Goodstein bought it, a little over 44,000. In spite of some claims to the contrary. But Dick was difficult to work with. Loyalty was a one-sided thing with him, as it is frequently with bosses. You’re to be 100% loyal to them, but they have no loyalty to you.
Because they hold the purse strings.
He hated signing checks to writers. He didn’t do it in the early days. He made the promise that when the paper grew enough to declare dividends, that those who had volunteered would get some stock. Well, by the time the paper declared stock, those who were working for the [publication] got first option to purchase the stock. Which was non-voting, non-dividend stock. And my feeling was, what the fuck is it good for? Well, as it turned out, when he sold the paper to Goodstein, those who had bought stock—it was quite profitable. But we didn’t know that was likely to happen. And it just seemed like, why do you buy it? It gives you no voice in the thing, and it brings no interest.
What happened to Michaels after he sold The Advocate? Did he go on to do anything else?
He and Bill went into retirement in a ranch—now that may have been a house with a large lot, or it may have been a real ranch—in Kings County [California]. They had signed—they were retained for six months as advisers. They were not speaking to Goodstein or anybody on the staff within a few weeks. Dick was screaming, “Those people don’t know what the fuck they’re doing!” But they did know what they were doing. It was just that they weren’t doing what he [wanted]. Goodstein understood Dick better than Dick understood Goodstein. And Goodstein convinced him that he was going to run the same kind of paper Dick had had in mind. Dick had turned down two purchasers who offered more money, because he felt they would turn it into a porno paper. And he did not want to see that. He probably liked even less what it turned into. [Laughs] Or certainly didn’t like it. I talked to him many times afterwards, and he was just fuming at the mention of the paper.
Really. Did he go on to do anything else, movement-wise?
Later? No. He had signed a contract that for the ten years of the payoff, […] there was a lump sum, and then a ten-year payoff. And for the length of the payoff, the contract would be canceled and the paper would belong to Goodstein if any people who were the sellers went into a competing publication.
Sure. But I’m saying outside of a publication. I mean…
He just retired. Now, he wrote a column for some time for publications like Patlar Gazette and some of the other unintelligent papers in California. Patlar Gazette was one that comes out of Sacramento. It’s as intellectual a paper, say, as Compass here.
Okay. I’m not familiar with it.
Or Ads Gazette a few years ago in San Francisco. Ads Gay-zette. [Laughs] And he “Rip Van Winkled” again, because his column was attacking just about everything that the movement was doing today. And actually, his position in the movement was kind of backwards then, except that he was militant about it. He believed in fighting, and we were fighting then. But on very limited terms. He wouldn’t have given a fuck for starting gay bands. He probably wouldn’t have given a fuck for Marching on Washington. I don’t think he was terribly impressed when we began making gains in the Democratic party. And he would have been even less impressed when gay Republican clubs started. All of which were necessary, I think. Although I think the gay Republicans—some are less necessary than others.
[End of Tape 3, Side 2]
[Tape 4, Side 1]
Bill came in immediately with a three-minute egg timer. Well, you can’t get the background on a story like that…
In three minutes.
…that fast, particularly—Kameny can be more long-winded than I am. And that says something.
[Laughs] One last person for you.
Dick [Michaels] refused to pay at the start, but when Spartan for Men and Avanti [both pub. by Press Arts, Canoga Park, 1969] started, they began paying right away. And Dick threatened to fire any of the Advocate people who weren’t being paid if they wrote for the other publications. Well, half of the writers appeared in that. And then Dick began to have to start paying. And then Gay from New York [pub. 1969–1974] opened an office here for a little while. And so he was forced to pay. But getting a check out of him was a real bitch. At least his checks never bounced. But it wasn’t that he would—”I’ll give it to you Monday. Come in Monday,” and, “Well, I don’t have time to write it out today.” And when he finally agrees to sign it, he would sit there with the checkbook open, and make you wait with your hand out for at least fifteen minutes before he’d hand it over. But it never bounced. But the one other thing is that with bad staff management, if the whole fucking staff walked off just before the paper went to bed, Dick and Bill, mainly Dick, did the job. Any part of the job, they could do, and it never showed that there had been a crisis. The only time that showed was when they got a new editor in, at the last minute, and he pasted up a whole bunch of clippings from the L.A. Times. And that was visible as hell.
Oh, my God!
Just totally different style of… [Laughs] But with Dick, you couldn’t tell anything had happened, no matter what stage of the assembly of the paper it was in, it got out, and it got out on time. So he could do the writing, he could do the typesetting, he could do the artwork, if necessary, the layout… He was a bastard to work with, but he was good.
On Newton Dieter (and Peggy Stevenson)
One last person. Newton Dieter.
Phony. The first time I remember seeing Dieter—and he was the second person who had done that to me—the first big peace march we had in L.A. was shortly after the [Gay and Lesbian] Service Center opened. This would be in ’72, on Wilshire. And L.A. just hadn’t been a place for peace marches, and this was a pretty big one. Not up to San Francisco standards. And afterwards we reconnoitered at the Center to discuss things. And Dieter, who apparently wasn’t known to the others there, kept making aggressive statements and citing me as his authority, or his credentials. “Jim Kepner will tell you what I…” And I was looking, “What is this? I don’t remember ever seeing him before!” And I can’t imagine—he’s not the sort of person who would have sat quietly in the corner. I can’t conceive of that. And that was true of the one other person who had done that, too, to me. Using me as, “We’ve worked together all of these years.” Morris [Kight] did that once, introducing me as—I’d gotten invited to speak in Sacramento at the first campus gay pride week there in ’70. And when Morris heard I was invited to keynote it, he got an invitation to introduce me. And his introduction went on a little longer than the time I was supposed to speak. And he talked about our working together for thirty years. Well, I had known him for three years, or two years!
And he was saying all sorts of things that simply were not true. And it leaves you in a hell of a position.
You have something you want to say; it’s awfully bad form to start contradicting the person who introduced you. Unless you can do it very jokingly. And I didn’t. I made a slight joke of it, but that didn’t hit home. But then I found, during a period when I had been out of ONE, a travel agent named Newt Dieter had come around to ONE and sold them on a trip to Europe. Dorr [Legg] showed up in New York with ten or fifteen ONE members who had paid for the trip. They were left at the dock. The arrangements hadn’t been made, Dorr fussed and fumed and threatened to sue them, and then Dieter shows up a few years later. Well, it was sometime later that I found that this was who it was. I didn’t even recognize the name. Then Ron Gold, who was… a bit of an asshole, came out as the media person from New York, from GAA—no, NGTF. [Ed.: Gold was media director for both Gay Activists Alliance and National Gay Task Force.] And gave us orders on how to deal with the media, since there is media on the West Coast as well as in New York. And we got a committee going, we arranged two or three meetings with top officials at ABC and CBS. And then another issue came up, and for two or three weeks we were all busy with something else. These meetings had gone well, but we didn’t keep that ball rolling right then, but we figured the ball was still there. And then we heard that Dieter had been recognized by all of the TV networks as the official spokesperson for the gay community. A nice little income.
Uh-huh. And then a little bit later, as a travel agent, he suddenly became Dr. Dieter.
Who was a therapist of some sort. And I began to hear rumors about how much he had paid for his doctorate. There were several companies in California, that sold them for about $15, for a while, but I didn’t hear specific rumors. And in ’75, I was hired by the new Advocate as the L.A. stringer, which was kind of an insulting title, since it had been an L.A.-based paper. And I was expected to turn in about 40 stories per issue, but they only printed two or three paragraphs of what I turned in. And they were complaining I wasn’t turning in enough! Well, they weren’t using it! And the first one they gave me a byline on was one that Dieter was involved with. They inserted into the story, under my byline, a remark that called all of the people involved in the [anti-war] action “fools and dangerous creeps who were giving our movement a bad name.” And when something like that appears under your name in something that you’ve been involved in, you never reach all of the people [to] say, “Look, I didn’t write that.” And they wouldn’t print a retraction. So that was the last I wrote for The Advocate for quite a while. Anyhow, we had picketed K[COP]—Channel 13 because of Mort Sahl’s gay-baiting and woman-baiting, and saying that homosexuals had killed my president, and so on. I never thought he was funny before that. And I never thought he was liberal.
I assume you’re talking about Kennedy.
Most of the conspirators—most of the conspiracy theories are homophobic. [Ed.: See, for instance, this online account of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s take on the intersection between homosexuals and the Kennedy assassination.]
Really? Interesting. I didn’t know any of that.
Anyhow. That’s not to say that gays can’t also believe that there was a conspiracy. Anyhow, Dieter took charge of that, after we had had the demonstration and so on. Then he did separate dealings with the station, and they gave him a 15-minute program once a week, at 6:15 in the morning. I was on the program once, and I got invited to do a second 15-minute taping because Phyllis [Lyon] and Del [Martin], who were supposed to show up, didn’t. And I couldn’t get up early enough to shoot the damn program. I usually get to bed around two or three in the morning. So then he became Peggy Stevenson’s representative. Robert Stevenson was the first candidate that gays had helped elect to political office here [to City Council]. Not because we knew much about him, but because his opponent, the incumbent [Paul H. Lamport], had been openly homophobic.
What time period are we talking here?
That’s ’69. So a bunch of gays, including several people from MCC [Metropolitan Community Church], including one of the bisexuals who was using his wife badly—pleasant guy, but oh, God, did he put her through hell to cover his homosexuality. She let herself in for it. But when Peggy, [Robert Stevenson’s] wife, found out that there were gays working in the office, she threw a fit. So she later inherited the [City Council] office. And she came to speak at SPREE, which I had helped organize. And…
What’s SPREE, Jim?
Society of Pat Rocco Enlightened Enthusiasts. A terrible acronym, but it was the social club with theater and films for ten years, [meeting on] the second Tuesday of the month, here in town. Drawing a large crowd. And drawing the people into movement activities also. [Ed.: Not to be confused with the First Tuesday series of meetings that ran from 1976 to 1985.] And [Peggy] came and read a speech that [Dieter] had written for her. And she stumbled through it as if she really wasn’t familiar with what it said. It was a well-written speech, but not well delivered. And there was too much smoking in the room, and I had gone out into the foyer there. I was a little turned off by her delivery. Got out into the foyer to get some fresh air, and she came out with Sylvia [Yuster], her chief attendant. “Thank God. Those people just make my skin crawl! But we’ve got to have their vote!”
This is our great friend! And Jim Foster had had the same experience with Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco. He had managed her earlier campaigns.
And then he heard what she was saying to groups where she thought there were no gays present. And there aren’t many such groups.
Not in San Francisco!
Even some very, very reactionary groups have gays, and an awful lot of them have been brought out by—one of the organizers of the Log Cabin [Republicans] here was brought out by escorting Peggy Stevenson to a meeting, and hearing her make similar statements on the way out. And with his bleached hair, and so on, she didn’t know he was gay. But—cakemaker. So when Michael Woo began running against her, several of us backed him. And some continued to back Peggy. Because she was doing some things. And you have to deliver some, at least on some resolutions, sort of pro forma things that don’t amount to much, but sound good. But I heard her make similar statements, but never that strong, a couple of other times. Because whenever she was speaking somewhere, I got near the exit, so I could hear what she said as she went out. But—oh. Dieter came around the Archives, and he offered the Archives his files of video tapes of all of the shows that had been submitted to him for his approval, and so on. But that he needed my endorsement for Peggy. I said, “Gee, I just don’t think I can do that.” And he said, “If you don’t, this place will be out of business in a few months.” Well… [Laughs]
I’ve spoken to him a few times since. He’s a travel agent again. And he got his house, a very fancy, very elegant house up in the Silverlake Hills, five or six rooms added to it with slum clearance funds. Silverlake is not a slum. Up in the hills. Down on Sunset Boulevard, and on the other side of Sunset Boulevard, it is kind of. That’s only been true in the last few years.
Meditations on the Mattachine: Common Ground
All right. Let’s go all the way back. We’re going to go all the way back and come forward again. I’ve got some stuff I want to ask you. Certain gay people had tried to start gay organizations in the U.S. as far back as [Henry] Gerber in ’24, if not further. Why do you think it was so difficult, and what made Mattachine different?
It was miraculous—and I should say this after I say the other, but I won’t—it was miraculous in Mattachine that five people came together on November 11, 1950 who had a common ideological background, and an ideological background that dealt specifically with organizing in areas where it is both dangerous and seems impossible. And that they also had a theory of the need to develop minority culture and community consciousness. Those were enormously creative ideas, which were utterly rejected [during the Mattachine convention] in April–May ’53. But ONE fortunately carried that out, although Don Slater never agreed with [the theory]. And Dale Jennings never agreed with it. But Dorr [Legg] and I did. And Chuck [Rowland] did, although Chuck didn’t stay around ONE long. So that there was a fairly common idea, down to some fairly fine details, on how to do this kind of organizing in the presence of fear, in the presence of real danger, and in the presence of the general feeling that it’s impossible. Now, I tried for ten years; Harry [Hay] had tried for 20; and Dorr tried for however many he will tell you, I don’t know. But Dorr said that when he came out, he began to think that every other homosexual was just looking for a trick, or Prince Charming. And he was looking for a community! When I came out, as soon as I finished the wrestling holds—and I hadn’t expected that! The movies I had seen didn’t show people in bed together, when they fell in love. At best, they went off onto a hillside arm in arm and watched the aurora borealis. So I was expecting an aurora borealis [unintelligible] from the ceiling! [Laughs] Something much more spiritually exciting. Even though I was an atheist at that time. But as soon as we finished the wrestling holds—“When do we organize?” This seemed a natural thing for me. But it did not seem natural for most gays. At first—and these are overlapping percentages, and I’m pulling the percentage out of my hat, but there’s sound reason for most of them—at least 70% of gays in America, if not elsewhere also, believed that we were sick.
This is pre-1950?
Before 1950. And even after. If you’re sick, you don’t organize, you go to a doctor. And if your illness is uncurable [sic], you fold your hands and wait until someone finds a cure, or until you die. Or you go out and have a party, and [Laughs] live it up ’til you die! At least 80% believed we were sinners, that we were going to go to hell. And for that you confess, or you read your beads, or you burn your candles, or your joss sticks, or your prayer wheels, or…
Whatever. Or you commit suicide. Or you go out and live it up ’til you die and go to hell! But organize—I mean, what’s the point? Now there’s a lot of overlap between those figures. Now, what was the third? Of course, many believed that we were the cause of fall of empires. And even if we like ourselves, that if we get openly recognized, the United States will collapse. And so will the rest of the world. Brimstone might even fall from the sky! The country will go sour. We will corrupt all the children. All of these negative charges were believed by most gays. And most gays believed several of them. And none of those led to organizing. And even beside the negative charges, if you felt that being gay was something that was natural—and some gays did feel that. A lot of the queens did. A lot of the queens rejected the negative—not with much philosophy.
But just with chutzpah. “Fuck all that! I’ve got to be myself.” Well, the queens might organize a party, or a ball, and expect that it’ll probably get raided. They opened—they made bars gay, and allowed the rest of us to sneak in a couple of nights a week and be gay as long as we were in, and pin up our bobby pins. [But] the moment we went out that door… But the queens weren’t into cause organizations, generally speaking. But I suspect that several of them did get started, like the one Jonathan Katz mentions in New York around the turn of the century.
What’s that now?
In Gay American History .
It mentions who, who starting what? A group of queens starting…
Are you familiar with Jonathan Katz’ book?
Yes, but I mainly read it from 1940 forward.
There’s a description of a society of—not society of the damned, that was one of Wally Jordan’s—it’s… a queens’ club which seemed to have a slight cause orientation. [Ed.: This is Katz’s subsection from “Resistance: 1859–1972” on Earl Lind, aka Ralph Werther and Jennie June, pp. 366–371.]
Now, also, what we now call the gay community was terribly fragmented, and fragmented by enormous hostilities. There are still gays—[Bruce] Bower was on a TV program yesterday, and he admitted—although I suspect he wasn’t being totally honest—that the queens who were on the program who spoke before him were very nice people, and he didn’t object to what they were doing. But I don’t think he was being honest with himself. [Laughs] Or with them. There are lots of gays who object to the presence of queens. And I wouldn’t mind if they… went away.
“They” being the queens, or “they” being the people who won’t accept the queens?
If we didn’t have to apologize for the queens anymore, if we didn’t have to apologize for the boy-lovers anymore. If we didn’t have to apologize for the far-out leather types. And those are more snobbish about the others. But they’re far more offensive than the queens. The homophobes get far more disturbed at these far-out leather costumes in parades than they do at the drag queens.
The drag queens at least are fun!
They can go to a Finocchio’s [Ed.: Famous San Francisco club in North Beach that featured drag acts; closed in 1999] or wherever, and entertainment, and that’s acceptable.
No one is frightened by a drag queen, unless it’s a closeted gay person.
Although I didn’t believe the scene in Fortune and Men’s Eyes , where the queen says, “I’ll knock your block off (or scratch your eyes out, whichever comes first).” I thought, “Well, queens don’t do that!” And then I had to remind myself, here I’m generalizing again, and I’ve known several queens who were tough as tuttle. [Laughs] And I had almost heard that phrase a few times. Slight variations of it, I mean. So… where were we?
We were talking about…
I don’t have a straight mind.
That’s OK. I understand that. I’m giving you lots of latitude.
I used to apologize for it all over the place.
Don’t need to. That’s why I’ve got everything on tape. We’ll just transcribe it and go from there. We were talking about what made it so difficult for gay groups to organize. And what made Mattachine different.
Now, after you get over the shame and the inbuilt homophobia; after you get over the fear—and this is the next big one—if we try to organize, we’d all get arrested right away. Society will never accept us! They will always hate us and fear us! How, why—for whatever reason? It’s hopeless! Besides—and here’s the next big one: the last thing in the world I’d want to be in is a room with a bunch of screaming queens. They can never agree on anything!
Well, I heard this from several people where I was able to say, “Look. Why are you saying that? I’m not a screaming queen; you’re not a screaming queen. We both seem to be half-rational people. There are others like us. Why couldn’t we get together?” Then you’re going to select a group of people at random. And what are you going to find? One of them wants to grab a sign and go right out on the street in 1952, and say, “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it!” Well, there weren’t many that were bold enough for that then, but that kind of strategy was half-suggested. And everybody else knew and was scared shitless! Chuck [Rowland]’s image of us marching down the streets together in unison was frightening to most gays, who had already joined the movement. What are you gonna do? All right, well, let’s see. What we should do is collect old shoes and toys and give them to Toys 4 Tots. And we have a nice, innocent name that doesn’t say who we are, but someone in the organization will know that this is coming from a homosexual group, and that we’re okay people because we’re collecting toys for tots. And a whole bunch of the other people in the room scream, “What the fuck is that going to accomplish? Particularly if you don’t tell them who the hell you are! And if you do tell them who they are, they won’t accept the toys!” Which has happened scores of times.
Someone else would say, “Well, we’ve gotta change the law.” Well, how do you go about doing that? Well, Hal Call, at the April  conference, [said,] “We’ve got some millionaires in San Francisco who pay the bills for several politicians, and if you can get rid of this [phrase] in the proposed statement of purposes that we commit ourselves to the establishment of a highly moral culture”—that’s Communist talk—”these millionaires will talk to the Governor, who they know, and the legislators, who they know, and the judges, who they know, and they’ll tell the police to lay off. And all this will be done quietly. And everything will be okay. The arrests will stop. And that’s all we’ve got to worry about!”
So part of the problem was just the diversity of strategies that different people would have, and the fact that you couldn’t get enough people to agree on anything was what kept everything splintered.
It’s a free-for-all. And it was, as I say, a miracle that five people came together who already had a fairly common philosophy. Now there were other groups that could have come together that had common philosophies. For instance, the group of people that, a few years later, that Elver Barker [aka Carl B. Harding] got together in Denver, who were mostly pacifists, mostly concerned with the environment, and mildly concerned with civil rights. I mean, they weren’t ready to march in Selma, but that was several years ahead anyhow. But a couple of them might have made a contribution to the Urban League or the NAACP. One of them might even have been a member. And a couple of them were members of the ACLU.
In the IGLA Bulletin I have from a couple of years ago, you mentioned a Boston group that met briefly in ’43. Who was that?
Yes. I don’t know.
At one of our early street corner rallies, outside the Dover Hotel on the anniversary of a guy being beaten to death [Ed.: Howard Efland died 09 Mar 1969, California Death Records] at the Dover Hotel by several cops and a couple of unidentified civilians—people who accompanied the cops and joined in the beating, big guys—we held a rally there. And as I approached the rally, I first met one of the guys who was later on ONE’s board who had joined the Mattachine at the same time I had, and asked him if he had any of the old papers left. And he said, “Oh, yes. When the Mattachine moved north, all of the records were left at my house. About 22 cartons. And I just sent them to the garbage a couple of weeks ago.”
Yeah, I’m sure.
I’ve never hit anyone in my life. Momentarily, I had an impulse to hit him! I liked the guy, but… “How could you do that?” He knew that the Mattachine would want those, that ONE would want them, that I would want them! And as soon as I finished talking to him, I noticed another guy who was standing there as if he was transfigured. He just had that… glory look, but about to cry. Very respectable-looking guy. And he said—as I walked up to him, and I’m not usually very forward with strangers—he said, “I never thought I would see the day when something like this would happen.” He said, “I organized a group in Boston. There were six or eight of us in 1942. And we held a series of monthly meetings, where we had speakers on sexual or other such topics. We didn’t have a name for the group, but it was a gay group. But after about nine or ten months,” I think he said, “almost all of us got drafted.” And I got his name and address, and as happens so many times after affairs like that, I take down several slips of paper with people’s names and phone numbers, and when I get home, they’ve gone somewhere! I guess I pull my glasses out of my pocket, and the slips of paper flew.
Sure. I’ve been known to wash a few.
The Philadelphia one is a little more documented.
No. That was in…
[End of Tape 4, Side 1]
[Tape 4, Side 2]
Santa Barbara. Came to several early Mattachine and ONE meetings, and talked about the group. And then when I got the [Henry] Gerber/[Manuel] Boyfrank correspondence, I found a couple [of] letters to him. And he had organized this group in conjunction with a number of ministers who were helping.
And this was in the ’40s we’re talking?
Early ’40s. And there were lots of ministers willing to help homosexuals. Some for very personal reasons, and some because ministers should be expected to do that sort of thing.
And Gerber just excommunicated the idea of—to Gerber, the whole framework of the movement is to get rid of all of this religious superstition crap. That’s where all the persecution comes from! And there are lots of gay atheists that still feel that way. Well, my feeling very early at ONE, when this resulted in Chuck [Rowland] starting the Church of One Brotherhood. People were coming to us for counseling. There were only three gay offices in the country. And there were five or six other offices that were counseling gays, but mostly to cure them. Like the George W. Henry Foundation in New York.
Taking the Cure: Alfred Gross and George W. Henry
Ooh! Can you tell me more about that? Dr. Alfred Gross? Is the name I have.
It’s like, I haven’t found anything out about him.
Very appropriate name, yes.
We have files on them, and the George W. Henry…. Gross was one of those obscene characters—and I’ve talked to several people, including McKay Litkin, who went through the office. However, they had a branch in Hartford [Connecticut] for a while that was somewhat better. It came out of something that the Quakers had organized in the early ’40s. And George W. Henry wrote this big study, which was a piece of crap. Like most of the psychological studies. Better than some. But Gross got kids paroled out to him. And they paid for the service in a special way. There were a couple of people at the [Gay and Lesbian Service] Center who were doing that too, for a while. And that’s always a possibility. And with him, if they didn’t put out, he could send them back to jail.
Oh. How awful!
Later he published a couple of booklets, and made a couple of speeches at some international conferences, which sounded much better. They were very antagonistic to the gay movement when it started, reporting that any time homosexuals got together, it turned into an orgy.
(Don’t we wish.)
And there were several publications that were saying that MCC [Metropolitan Community Church] was just—people went there and had orgies.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
I’ve been to several MCC’s, and I’ve not seen anything like that.
I did go to a couple of parties sponsored by an MCC in Orange County, where one particular person got a little out of hand. But…
Yeah. I’ve been involved with MCC for nine years. So…
Anyhow, let’s see. Who was it before, we were talking about just before we got off on Gross?
We were talking about the Boston group, and then Philadelphia.
On Gerber, Boyfrank and McCourt: A Different Plight
Yeah. Oh, yes. Now the [Henry] Gerber/[Manuel] Boyfrank/[Frank] McCourt and others correspondence is illustrative of a problem. Because there, what you’ve got, over a period of ten or more years, was a group of three men—and occasional others, who came into it briefly—who wanted to organize. Each one had his own ideas. And rarely listened to anybody else. And every once in a while, there’d be a little explosion, generally from Gerber, “I don’t understand. You goddamn fool! You just don’t understand how these things need to be done!” When Boyfrank would express an idea that was different from his. [Ed.: Kepner also covers some of the following in his and Stephen O. Murray’s chapter on Gerber in Bullough (ed.), 2002, Before Stonewall, pp. 24–34.]
First, they didn’t define the problem the same way. Now, what is the problem? [Pause] What is homosexuality? In Boyfrank’s view, all men, really, prefer to associate—he’d say homosocial, or he would agree with the term homosocial; I don’t know that he used it—to associate with other men, and […] all men are really erotically attracted to men, and to boys, but the church teaches them to reject that, and to fear that. And women trap them into providing nests for the women. And then once a man gets trapped, then he feels he has to oppose this freedom that the other people have, that he doesn’t have anymore. And he becomes jealous of the ones that are still free.
Gerber felt that there are two types of people in the world. There are homosexuals and heterosexuals. And floating around in the middle are a bunch of venomous types who can’t make up their mind, and they will always get you into trouble. And if you have anything to do with them, [for example,] one of the members of Boyfrank’s group in Chicago had his wife living in the same apartment building—and I have a photograph […] of the house where they were meeting. His wife heard about the group, and called a social worker, and the social worker called the police. They all were hauled off to jail without passing GO. And Gerber had to spend his life savings of two or three hundred dollars to get them out. More expensive nowadays. Particularly for a group of people.
McCourt had a more genteel, slightly religious approach. He didn’t argue religion with them, but I gather he had leanings in that direction. And Gerber just about excommunicated him at one point. McCourt had used the New York chapter of the U.S. Rocket Society, a rocket experimenters’ group—a lot of science fiction fans in it, so there were a whole bunch of names listed there that I knew of, and I don’t know if they knew what McCourt was doing with this group. But he was using the group as cover for a sort of gay pen-pals club. But the newsletters were filled with hetero jokes. And you look at his newsletter, and there’s nothing gay that shows on the surface. But after you learned to read between the lines…
…it’s there! [Laughs] And an awful lot of gays told hetero jokes for cruising. You’d get a tone that’s different. And when large numbers of servicemen began to be shipped across the Atlantic, in ships many of which didn’t make it—the German subs were pretty damned accurate—McCourt began holding prayer meetings with some of the servicemen who were about to be shipped across. Gerber was furious, just absolutely furious! Well—I choke up at the thought of it—the guys who were going to be shipped across the Atlantic, knowing that maybe three out of ten would get across the Atlantic, and then maybe one out of ten of those would come back. They needed something like that. With people of their kind. So that, for a lot of gays who would want to organize, some would be looking for something, some way to respectability. Some would be looking for some way of dealing with the religious question. Some would be looking for finding people to go to the doctors, either to convince the doctors that we’re not as bad as the doctors think, or to find a way to cure us. And you’d get all these people together in one room, they’re discussing how they’re going to do “it.” Without realizing that “it” is a very different thing for every one. And none of them want to take time to discuss philosophy. They assume, and they said over and over and over again, in the first ten years of the movement, “We all want the same thing, don’t we?” I heard Phyllis [Lyon] and Del [Martin] say that fifty or sixty times. I heard Shirley Willer say it many times. I heard Dick Michaels say it. I heard [Frank] Kameny say it. [Foster] Gunnison. [Barbara] Gittigs. Hal Call. And for a long time, I felt as if, “Am I the only one in the movement that sees that we don’t all want the same thing? Some want the right to have sex on the street, like Rechy preached in Sexual Outlaw . Have you read that?
It’s a manifesto. Saying that the only way to be free of puritan and vice squad repression is to start having sex in the street. And if it gets bad enough, have sex right under the windows and on the front porch of the respectable people. And in reading it, I was almost persuaded. But not persuaded enough to ever do that! [Laughs] And it was popular with an awful lot of non-gay college kids. So that’s what some are looking at. I think it’s what Hal Call would want, but with the respectability. Rechy would say, “Fuck the respectability!” Others would say, “Well, we have to transform society. Which means a socialist revolution, or an anarchist revolution, or a Christian revolution. And then gays will be treated right.”
My landlady, who […] helped recruit me into the Communist Party, said, “You can’t raise that issue. It would confuse the workers. It would give ammunition to our enemies! I understand your problem. I like gays!” A lot of her tenants were, and had been, gay. “But it would destroy the movement. But comes the revolution, you will be treated right.” Well, the record wasn’t all that good. I didn’t know that at that time. And at that time, there was still a little literature around about the fact that the Russians had established a homeland for gays. Out in Siberia, near Gerbajon, the Jewish homeland [Ed.: Regarding the Jewish homeland, Kepner may be referring to the town of Birobidzhan, the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast]. Both of which later were called gulags. They probably were gulags from the start, but… So there was this idealistic thing. The Soviet minister of health, at international conferences on sex law reform, up through 1931, when he was quieted—he attended one more conference where Russians would not allow him to speak—spoke of Russia as being the one country that had liberated homosexuals. And Boyfrank and Gerber believed that!
So when Gerber was working on this publication in 1934, Chanticleer, he described the Night of the Long Knives and the drive against homosexuals in Germany, but missed the fact that the same thing had started in Russia ten months earlier. That 10,000 gays had been rounded up in six different cities and sent to Siberia—to the homeland, I guess… And the law had been changed, and there was an enormous amount of gay-baiting […] by the top Russian leaders. And John [O’Brien], of course, will believe that the Trotskyists were better, but Trotsky did his own gay-baiting just as heavily. It was really a miracle that got a group of gays together. Now, where it also could have happened, it could have happened in some seminary.
Every other seminary in the country has, as nearly as I can gather, been a hotbed—if that’s the right term…
…of gays who were fairly open. And fairly active. And if some of them had begun to say, we’ve got to do something about…. The guy who converted me to pacifism, a friend of his was later on the staff of ONE, and said that Jack McClinton was gay! I know Jack McClinton turned me on. But I didn’t dare suspect that he had the same feelings I had.
Wouldn’t allow myself to suspect that. He was too beautiful!
Couldn’t be one of those! Funny.
So that the odds against getting a group of people who are sensible, who have some organizing talent, who aren’t going to do something right off that will destroy—I mean, like, Chuck [Rowland] proposed—I said I kicked Chuck in the balls a couple of times [explained below; for another kick in the balls see my “Vile Vault: The FBI Gets Its Man (or Woman)”]. In August of ’54, I had been on the staff of ONE for a few months. I had edited the July issue, focusing on [Walt] Whitman. And at a staff meeting, it was announced in rapid succession that Dorr [Legg]’s idea that people were judging ONE to be just a magazine was a mistake that we had to counter. So the magazine was going to be de-emphasized for a while. Next sentence, I was appointed, without being asked, editor of the magazine. Gee, that was a left-handed one.
The idea of being editor of the magazine wasn’t something that I would have shied away from. I would like to have been asked before it was announced.
That would be nice.
But to have the announcement follow the statement that the magazine was going to be de-emphasized….
Misbegotten and Momentary: Walt Whitman Guidance Center and Church of One Brotherhood
And Chuck [Rowland] was going to quit his job as office manager of a furniture factory, and start raising funds from some of those mythological rich gays that lived up in the Hollywood Hills that we had heard about, and raise enough money to lease an old Victorian in the Ambassador Hotel area, and call it the Walt Whitman Guidance Center. And we would send someone down each day to the train depot, and to the bus depot—the airport wasn’t important enough then. Our kind of people wouldn’t be coming in in the airport in ’54—with something like a sandwich-board sign saying, roughly, if you’re gay and you’re coming to L.A. as a Mecca, come to the Walt Whitman Guidance Center, and we will teach you how to lead a good, responsible, safe, moral gay life. Hah!
Sort of, sort of…
1954? With the L.A.P.D.? With Chief Parker? Who made J. Edgar Hoover look like a liberal. And with bar raids all over the place. As soon as any such announcement appears, on a sandwich-board sign or anyplace else, the place will be raided! Well, I fought it to a standstill, and our attorney, who was utterly shocked by the idea, joined me. I quit, he threatened to quit. And I came back after two or three months, and the project was dropped. And Chuck [Rowland] was terribly hurt by it. Then came the Church of One Brotherhood a year later. Which was very successful for a year. Had a very successful first anniversary banquet, and was dead by the next Sunday morning.
I tried for years to figure that out. And I don’t think that Chuck—Chuck, when he left L.A., literally erased his memory. And when he came back, I interviewed him, and he really couldn’t remember much of anything! It had just been all—it had ended so painfully for him. [H]e was arrested in St. Louis, and spent almost a year in jail. He hitchhiked up through Iowa, virtually flat broke and hungry. Passed a construction site with a sign that it was going to be a community college, and that they needed teachers to apply. He applied for a teaching job, and was hired on the spot. [Laughs] And scared to death they were going to check into his background. And somehow they didn’t. [Ed.: Two sources have contradicted Kepner’s details regarding Rowland’s St. Louis arrest and jail time, as well as the circumstances of his Iowa employment, which was at a high school rather than a college.] And he did a good job. Was there for several years, and then went on to Virginia, Minnesota until he retired.
Did you ever attend that Church of One Brotherhood?
I attended a few sessions. I laughed to scorn in the first issue of ONE’s members newsletter [ONE Confidential, Jan–Mar 1956]. And I am ashamed of what I wrote, because it was real fag-bashing.
Would you say that Troy Perry in any way, fashioned—not that he would have known—
I didn’t hear of it until I described it in MCC’s first anniversary service.
Would you say there were parallels, though?
There was a parallel for the first year, and I was crossing my fingers. Because the Church of One Brotherhood’s collapse was so fast. And when I first heard about MCC, my reaction was, “Oh, God, not this shit again!” But after I heard a little more about it, I went out there to see what kind of shit this was. And I don’t think I was inside the door before I realized there was something very positive happening there. Something very creative. First, Chuck concocted the gospel as such for that. Out of the kind of healing salve that he thought gays needed. It was—MCC is ecumenical. The Church of One Brotherhood was syncretistic. It married a little bit of Parsiism, a little bit of Buddhism, a little bit of Christianity, a bit here and there. Stating that you don’t have to believe anything to become a member of the Church of One Brotherhood. The Church of One Brotherhood has its own beliefs. Well, gee, that’s nice.
Sounds like the Unitarians.
And it was so prissy. And of course, my own prissophobia got the better of me in describing it. And as I say, I’m really ashamed of the article I wrote. And I intend to reprint it in this book! [Laughs] If I can get the book printed. [Ed.: Reprinted in Kepner, Rough News, Daring Views (1998), pp. 110–111.] But this little sylph wandered down the hill, I mean, down the aisle, lisping [Laughs], and so on. “We hereby dedicate this temple.” Anyhow. Chuck said later that he had not been serious about the church. That he didn’t expect people to take it seriously. And I don’t quite believe this. But that there was still the hysteria, there were still newspaper editorials and speeches in the Senate, talking about rounding up all of the Communists, security risks and perverts, and putting them in some of the revived camps from the old WWII military camps that had been closed. And so on. Sort of relocation centers. Including Toluca Lake and Manzanar, which the Japanese had gotten out of. And so on. So people who had a radical background, and people especially who were also homosexual, and had become public on that, and knew they couldn’t count on the radicals for support, were worried. And a couple of times, Chuck and others fled to Mexico. But they found they couldn’t establish themselves there. Except there were an awful lot of other radicals there that they knew. [Laughs] And none of them could find jobs or anything. And there was real talk about—war with Russia is just a few weeks off. [Ed.: Rowland and Bob Hull relocated to Mexico briefly, in the summer of 1950, likely for the reason Kepner gives.]
And the McCarthy thing was still going strong. So Chuck had figured that of all American liberties—and the Dianeticists and others, Scientology, have latched onto that—the most sacred one is the freedom of religion. And if you call yourself a church, you are likely to be safe. That’s more sacred than freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. And you can do any goddamn shit if you call yourself a church.
Not a bad argument.
And one of my big chagrins, after we reacted with enormous anger to the founding of the Church of One Brotherhood…
The rest of us on ONE.
Everybody on the board except Chuck. And everybody on the Board of Trustees, which was a broader group than the board. But I was very chagrined when Dorr [Legg] admitted that his anger was not that Chuck had started the church, but that he had used ONE’s name and stolen the idea, which Dorr himself wanted to do.
Here we go again!
[Laughs] For the same reason. That is, that it was the ultimate protection. Now Dorr didn’t have a radical background. Dorr, like Don Slater, was one who, in the fifties, felt that Senator Taft of Ohio had tainted himself with a little too much socialism, and that Barry Goldwater was a little too radical.
And at that time, that was not Barry Goldwater’s reputation.
Right, right. Oh, exactly. He’s gotten better over the years.
Yes, he’s gotten better. [Laughs]
Bless his heart.
More Meditations on the Mattachine
So this just—getting a group of level-headed people together who are willing to make the commitment, who are willing to stick to it, and who can agree on goals and strategies—at least to a minimal agree, it doesn’t have to be agreement down the line. But the first five in the Mattachine had agreement a long ways down the line.
Because they were all Communist Party members. I mean, that was the background they had, right?
Dale Jennings says he was never in the party. [Ed.: Jennings, in fact, thrice wrote that he’d been a Party member, but was thrown out. In Homosexual Information Center Newsletter #37, p. 3, writing as Jeff Winters: “One of the founding fathers thrilled to his membership in the party for only one week.” In HIC Newsletter #42, p. 2, writing as himself: “[Stuart Timmons] is mistaken in saying that I did not belong to the Communist Party.” C. Todd White, in his profile of Jennings (Before Stonewall, Vern L. Bullough ed. , p. 89) quotes Jennings in a letter admitting to his membership.]
But he understood Party theory.
He was close to it. Most of his family were either in the party or close to it.
And that makes perfect sense.
He was involved in a lot of party front groups. Bob [Hull] and Dale and—I don’t know if Rudi [Gernreich] had been in the Party.
But Rudi would say anything Harry said.
His father [Siegmund Gernreich] had been a socialist official in Austria. He was a Marxist. So that made easy sailing. Now, as I say, if a group of Christians, of a liberal persuasion—particularly those who lean toward the social gospel, who believe in using, who believe that religion impels us toward social reform. It’s a miracle that that didn’t happen. And I would say that the Quaker group that led to the formation of the one we were talking about in New York, that [Alfred A.] Gross was in probably started in that direction. [Ed.: See also this profile of Gross by LGBT Religious Archives Network.] But when Gross became in charge, it became something else. […] And I was rather antagonistic to them. But I learned the chapter in Hartford was closer to being a gay support group. Reverend Jones published three or four books on the subject. Early, liberal, pro-gay books.
Jones headed up the Hartford group?
Yeah. There are two or three Joneses that have written in this field. I forget his first name now, but… [Ed.: Kepner refers to Clinton R. Jones, author of What About Homosexuality? (1972), Homosexuality and Counseling (1974), and Understanding Gay Relatives and Friends (1978).]
No problem. Not to worry.
So again, others in the science-fiction field. A lot of the science-fiction fans were closeted types. And some of them got closer to coming out…
Right. Now I read about the phrase that you went…
Something could have started there. I discussed with several of them starting a gay magazine, or gay organization. Most of them immediately told me, “Never write to me again.” Several times, [at meetings of] the groups at my house, while the Mattachine was being started, I would call a few people into another room—the whole group was too diverse. The science-fiction fans, ex-radicals, and other people I met here and there.
And they would agree at first, and then the next day you would contact them, and they would say, “What are you talking about?”
And one of the things that led me to my first distrust of the Knights of the Clock. I first heard of it at one of ONE’s Midwinter Institutes, I think in ’56. [Ed.: The announcement for the 1956 Midwinter Institute does not include a segment devoted to Knights of the Clock, although one session features segments on the Mattachine Foundation and the Mattachine Society.] Dorr [Legg] handed me a paper to read. And Dorr’s typing was always terrible. He never cleaned ribbons. And he never changed ribbons. And then he wrote in, like, in no. 1 pencil in the margins, on yellow newsprint paper. And handed me this thing to read. And it was a description of this organization I had never heard of. It had hundreds of people attending, and so on. “What is this?” And I was in the middle of reading it before I realized what I had gotten into. And I, I wanted to just stop, and say, “What is this? I’ve never heard of it. If this is something you’re involved in, Dorr, you should be presenting this!” But I didn’t. [Laughs] But what I also found was that several friends of his, that he claims were in the Knights of the Clock, were at that time among those that I was talking to at my house—several black friends—about starting a gay group. One of these had been his roommate for a long time. And they never mentioned anything about any such group. [Laughs]
To Serve or Not to Serve
Let me change tacks. I know you were in the service during WWII. Was it the Army that you served in? You were in the service in WWII. Was it the Army?
No, I was not.
OK. Oh, you were not in the service?
No. When the draft was started, I was just short of 18. I was a pacifist. The Presbyterian Church, of which I was a member, was not supporting pacifist claims. And you could not register as a C.O. [conscientious objector] then without denominational backing. Only later could you be a non-religious C.O., or a religious C.O. that didn’t have denominational backing. But by the time I was called up—well, let’s see. When I first went up to the Draft Board, I signed as a C.O., but wasn’t called for an exam. Then I moved to San Francisco. By the time they caught up with me, I had left the church. And begun to realize that my absolute pacifism was religious-based. And without Jesus’ ten thousand angels to stand up there for you… [Laughs] And with the presence of Hitler, and so on, I simply couldn’t sustain that. Even though I was emotionally still a pacifist. But I was called up for the draft several times, and I was in the middle of my first love affair in San Francisco when they finally caught up with me. My lover suggested getting a letter from a psychiatrist saying that I was homosexual. I did that, and I regretted that ever since. The psychiatrist didn’t believe me, but before I had gotten through the…
[End Tape 4, Side 2]
[Tape 5, Side 1]
And they had a whole bunch of newsmen waiting there to photograph and interview the new draftees. But they had cleaned the bottom of the barrel of the WWII 4-Fs [Ed.: Selective Service registrants classified 4-F were not acceptable for military service]. And when it got to the end of it, a very cute, obviously gay captain at the end asked me why I had not been in WWII. I said, “Well, I was born clubfooted, inverted.” Well, my feet were turned around—which is one meaning of the term inverted—and he said, “Well, that second word. That could be two or three things. Does that mean what I think it means?” Well, I couldn’t risk perjury. [Laughs] So I said, “Well, yes, I used to think I was homosexual.” He said, “Go on in. You’ll have a ball!” [Laughs]
God. How funny.
But his supervisors did not—I got sworn in three times that day.
But every time, some superior came along and nixed it. And when I went back to the captain, he said, “All these newsmen are still waiting out here, and we don’t have anyone”—he said, “You’re the only one who passed both the physical and the mental tests, and the IQ test.”
I passed it! [Laughs]
So you never were in the service?
Okay. Did you ever marry a woman?
I took out a marriage license once, and lived with a woman for a month. I had a bookstore on Telegraph Hill [in San Francisco], on Grant Avenue, and our bestseller was [L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book] Dianetics. In 1950–51. In spite of the fact that I tried to talk every person who asked to buy the book out of it.
And I guess my negative sales pitch worked well—not the way I intended it to! But it did keep us in business for a few months. And she insisted I co-audit with her, because she was the first guy—she had picked a number of young gay-type guys to co-audit who were passive. [Ed.: Auditing is the process in Dianetics/Scientology whereby a person engages in spiritual/individual interrogation and/or self-examination.] And she needed someone who had a little spunk to audit her! Although she didn’t want too much spunk, because she kept telling me how to audit her. Well, she’s supposed to be lying there, with me giving directions, she was giving me the directions to give… [Laughs]
So you knew enough not to carry that [marriage] out?
Yeah. Well, actually, I might have if I hadn’t come up front. I was in the back room writing one day, and I came up front and found her in bed with a friend of mine. And I was in the middle of—it wasn’t so much jealousy. I was in the middle of the room before I realized what was happening, what had happened. And it was just difficult backing out gracefully. And I backed all the way out of the house. [Laughs]
And she went off her rocker a short time after that. A lot of people did on Dianetics. There were several suicides, and so on.
I have an aunt who’s been involved for about 15 years, so, yeah, I’ve got some knowledge of that.
In Before Stonewall [Greta Schiller, Robert Rosenberg, dirs. (1984)], you mentioned there were 20–30 gay bars in San Francisco at any one time. If they were so short-lived, how did people find them? And without a gay press, how were people ever able to break into the community?
[Laughs] Well, it took me nine months’ hunting. And when—her name slips my mind now. All sorts of names slipping my mind tonight. Maybe my mind is… [Laughs]
Honey, you’re doing just fine.
Abby Spinelli. Whom I worked with at Freight Accounts in Southern Pacific general headquarters in San Francisco at 65 Market. Was a descendent of one of the Italian painters of the same last name. And she told me about the Black Cat in San Francisco. I went up the street on a cloud of idealism, walking six inches above the sidewalk, skipping six inches above the sidewalk, going to join my brothers and sisters for the first time. Or have you read this, I’ve written it up a few times.
I’m familiar with some of it.
Okay. And I saw my first—the only—bar raid I’ve ever seen. And I babysat several bars when I heard they were going to be raided, and that’s a prescription for a dull evening. Everybody else leaves. [Laughs] But I can still hear the one queen yelling at the officer, “Don’t shove me, you bastard, or I’ll bite your fuckin’ balls off!” And that queen paid dearly for that. So my first Mattachine discussion group was, what do we do about these queens and dykes that are giving us a bad name? And I was very timid. I sat through about 45 minutes of that, then I exploded.
Yeah. That was in Marcus’s book, right? I’ve got, I have all of that in detail. [Ed.: Eric Marcus, Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990: An Oral History (1992).]
So… I didn’t find anything else for a while. Then one night, walking up Montgomery Street, I caught the eyes of a guy who wasn’t particularly attractive, but he at first looked like a guy I had known in Galveston. And that probably helped with the eye-lock. So we spent about an hour and a half going up and down the street, stopping and looking in store windows that we weren’t interested in. After a long time, I finally asked if he had a match. Then I got the giggles and said I didn’t smoke. And he took me upstairs and taught me a number of positions, which I hadn’t expected. And the aurora borealis didn’t occur [Ed.: Kepner refers to a romantic notion discussed above].
And I said, “When do we organize?” And he said, “The last thing in the world I’d want to be in…” And so that conversation got repeated several subsequent times. Only I learned not to ask very often. You look for […] the kind of people who’d be likely to want to do something like that. Serious-minded, intelligent people. Others—don’t bother asking! If you know what the answer’s gonna be, or thought I did. So how did I find out about Li Po’s? I don’t remember. Someone told me about Li Po’s, in Chinatown. The bar is still there.
Now this is like ’43, right?
This is in ’43. It was, so far as I can tell, it was only a gay bar for a few months in all of this time. But oh, what a gay bar it was! There was a buxom, blondish woman who played the piano. [Sings] “San Francisco, open your Golden Gate,” “Someday he’ll come along, the Man I Love,” [Laughs] “Just Plain Bill,” “Someday my Prince will come,” “Sweet Violet, sweeter than all the roses,” and a whole bunch of other songs. Fifteen or twenty of us, standing around the piano. Sort of arm-in-arm. Slightly more than half sailors. Back in the days when slender was in. And a fair sprinkling of Air Force men, and the other services. And some civilians. And very, very romantic. The first night, several guys wanted to take me home—I was the fresh meat. And Art did. He was a saucy, sophisticated New Englander. Bow tie and all of that. And I learned that bow ties were codes—but only in certain cities. [Laughs]
Y’all had to know a lot more then, didn’t you?
Mm-hm. And it was—so for about three months, I was hitting 15 or 20 bars, not 15 or 20 a night. I was hitting at least five or six bars a night. And/or at least three sex partners a night, although sometimes one was good enough to last all night. And then going home to my father and sister, who were three hills away, over at O’Farrell and Buchanan in what’s now the Fillmore District. That was when the Japanese had just been moved out, and it had become largely Okie but not yet at all black. And it was wonderful, but I found increasingly that if you didn’t behave like a queen, they assumed you were trade. And I didn’t care for that. Get in bed with some Henrietta, “Well, nothing’s more useless than two sisters in bed together!” But I thought it was fun. Besides, with another queen you didn’t necessarily have to get fucked! And I enjoyed that sometimes, but not all the time. [Laughs]
Never my idea of a good time.
And I was never good at doing it.
Oh. I can… maneuver at times.
So, actually, the particular four main sex entries—I was never that taken with any one of them, except in fantasy. My fantasies are very anal. And I don’t have one of those anymore.
I had a colostomy.
Oh, dear! Okay.
[Laughs] Yes. When I got out of the hospital, I decided I was not going to be closeted about that. So I went to one of those free meetings, and everybody had thought I had died. And I just sort of bounced up onto the stage, and well… “I don’t have an asshole anymore, but I guess I can still be one! And I don’t know where I’ll get my reading done, because there’s no purpose in sitting on that seat where I’ve spent at least a quarter of my life!”
Oh, God. How funny.
I’m not generally that… but I just felt it had to be out with it. And everybody—oh, for a year afterwards, everybody had heard that I was very, very sick. Well, I was in the hospital for a week, about. And I had what is certainly a serious enough operation. And I was not terribly energetic for a while; I couldn’t sit down comfortably for a long time, and actually the skin that I used to sit on got moved over.
And so the skin and flesh a few inches over from where it used to be has never adjusted to my tailbones poking on hard chairs.
Sure, sure. I can understand that.
Anyhow, so much for that. [Laughs]
On Making Waves
You mentioned in Before Stonewall [Greta Schiller, Robert Rosenberg, dirs. (1984)] that Frank Kameny thought gays would gain social acceptance by dressing properly, behaving properly, not making waves, not drawing attention to ourselves.
Not making waves? Not Kameny.
That’s a direct quote that I had.
In Before Stonewall?
Mm-hm. That you had made. I mean, if you don’t believe it, I mean, that’s fine.
[Ed.: In a segment of the film that discusses the public face of homosexuality just as it was having a presence in mainstream media, Kepner states, “Many of us accepted the idea that if we dressed properly, if we behaved properly, if we didn’t make waves, if we didn’t draw attention to ourselves, people would accept us—by not knowing who we were.” He does not attribute this attitude to Kameny, but follows up with, “And we gradually—some of us—began to take the position that we had to assert ourselves.”]
But the question: Had everybody accepted that idea, where do you think the movement would be today?
Most—I think most gays in the movement also didn’t want to make waves. Kameny would have said make waves, but only the right kind of waves.
So I don’t think I could have attributed that to Kameny. The “making waves” part. But respectable, yes. Kameny didn’t want to admit any organizations to NACHO [North American Conference of Homophile Organizations] that raised image problems. There [were] two organizations in L.A. that were involved with metaphysical concerns. And we couldn’t have that. I fought for including them; they considered themselves—one was a gay-friendly organization, led by gays, and one was an out-and-out gay organization. The latter crawled out from under a rock, but they were a gay organization. The head of it still crawls out from under that rock every once in a while. But there were many who did not want to make waves. Kameny felt that we must, we must be assertive. And Dick Michaels would have said make waves, too.
Did you march in that, the picket in Washington, D.C. in ’65?
No. I didn’t get back there at that time.
Making Waves—in L.A.
We had our first demonstrations—the first demonstration here was reported in Tangents in The Committee to Fight Exclusion of Homosexuals from the Armed Forces. CTOEHF, something like that. [Ed.: CFEHAF.]
Harry [Hay] and Johnny [Burnside] had designed white boxes to go on the top of thirteen cars, with a running message like the old Burma Shave signs that essentially said, “Write President Johnson protesting the exclusion of homosexuals from the Armed Forces.” Frequently dividing in the middle of a word. And the cars got out of order.
Oh, God! [Laughs]
I started to say earlier, Harry and Chuck [Rowland] […] both drive like this. [Mimics “Little-Old-Lady”] And they’ll get out in the middle of an intersection and start—or did I finish saying that?
Yes, you told me.
And so they were supposed to reconnoiter around Westlake Park [Ed.: Renamed MacArthur Park]. And several of them got lost. They got back together eventually. And where they photographed the demonstration, they were all in neat order. But I objected to it because I thought at that time that our chief hope for non-gay support came from people in the hip and peace movements. And that fighting for the right to join in the killing [Laughs] was just strategically wrong. Yes, I felt that homosexuals should have equal rights. Harry—who had been involved in the peace movement—tried hard to explain that position, but he didn’t get [it] across. But when Harry explains something, he never knows whether he gets [it] across or not. If he explains it, that’s all that’s necessary. And Morris Kight, who was a pacifist activist, was in that also. When I said I was going to boycott it, they announced that they were going to assemble in front of my house to get me. [Laughs] But I got in my car and went ahead of the line of march, and stopped to watch them several times. And I blew their minds, and several Republican minds, by stopping in front of Reagan for Governor (I think) headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard to watch it. [Laughs] But no, I didn’t march in that one. And that was in May [21,] ’66. [Ed.: See CFEHAF press releases.]
That’s more like it.
And there were also demonstrations for the same purpose in D.C., in San Francisco, I think a small one in Sacramento, and I think a small one in Chicago. There may have been one in New York, too. Or Philadelphia. But it was planned by NACHO. And in ’67, February 11th, we had the protest outside the Black Cat in L.A., after a particularly vicious raid [on 01 Jan 1967] had severely injured several people, and several others were arrested at the Black Cat and the nearby New Faces. The location of the Black Cat is now the—well, it was Basco’s [Ed.: And Tabasco’s before that and, before it closed on 01 Nov 2011, it was called Le Barcito]. It’s just been renamed again. [It’s] in Silverlake […] on Sunset between Hyperion and Sanborn. [W]e were planning a demonstration without having set the date. And we heard that Al Matthews, an underground press publisher who was organizing protests against the police attack on the hippies on the Sunset Strip, which was on the six o’clock news for a month or so, and the police, the sheriffs had beat up several people coming out of Dino’s and Ciro’s and the Trocadero. They couldn’t tell the difference between hippies and lawyers and their well-dressed wives or dates. […] And a couple of movie people. So […] Al had come up with the idea of protesting against police brutality in several minority communities. When we heard about it, we fed into that in Silverlake. And when Al saw our leaflet, which had the word “homosexual” on it, he split every gasket he had. Came screaming up to our office, and said we’d destroy the whole movement if we mentioned that word. Or the word “gay” or anything like that. So we scratched out the word on the leaflet, although you could still kind of read it.
And in my speech at the rally—we had about 12 to 20 people in the picket line. We were picketing in front of the bar, but not picketing the bar. And about 200 people at the rally, at least a quarter of whom were police. They had the most heavily armed group around us for several blocks that I had ever seen at that time. With machine guns and such.
And they paraded them past to make sure we saw them. And then set them up a few blocks away at several different posts. We had about 200 people. But we passed out 3,000 leaflets that night. People would drive by, stop, grab a leaflet, and say they’d join us next time, and burn rubber getting away from there. [Laughs] And I couldn’t believe we had gotten rid of that many leaflets. Unless the police grabbed a bunch of them, which is possible too. But I pitched my speech, on the idea that there are demonstrations against police brutality in six different neighborhoods tonight. We have been ordered not to say who we are. In Watts, they don’t have to say who they are. It’s visible. On the east side, they don’t have to say who they are; it’s visible. In Pacoima. In Silverlake, they don’t have to say who they are, because it’s been on the six o’clock news for a couple of months. But we’ve been ordered not to mention our name. And we will stick to that agreement tonight. But we swear that the nameless love will never again shut up. That, I think, [Laughs] is the first time that phrase was used. That way. Several other people used it later. And it got good reaction. We tried to introduce some of the policemen who had been involved in the beating, and I was very disgusted later to find that [at the] Shelly Andelson roast, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where I got introduced to [President Jimmy] Carter’s mother and to Governor [Jerry] Brown and a few other celebrities, the policeman who led the beatings, was one of the main speakers. [Ed.: The event took place 25 Oct 1979.]
After he left the service, he went into writing TV scripts about police.
Of all the materials at IGLA [International Gay and Lesbian Archives], which item or items are the rarest, and which ones are the most personally involving for you?
The correspondence with Wally Jordan, who asked me in ’42 if I had heard about a group called the Sons of Hamidy.
Which he claimed had been organized in the 80s and fallen into bitch fights and then re-organized in ’34, and was now being re-organized.
Senators and generals…
And it was led by senators and generals. And then I later heard from other pen-pals and other friends of his that I was national secretary when he hadn’t even told me how to join!
And I had been pressing him for a long time. And so, when I first heard about Mattachine, it sounded like the same thing. Those are valuable to me. The records and the notes. In 1970, I made a list of about 42 gay organizations that I had had some primary involvement in. And that was 21 years ago [Laughs], 22 years ago. And there have been a few since then. Including the Archives. [Laughs] And teaching four gay studies classes at UCLA Experimental College, and so on.
No credit, no pay. [Laughs] I didn’t even get free parking. But they were fun, and I got good reports from the heads of the History and Literature Departments.
What years were those?
’74. However, the program had been started by a guy who had one of those $15 degrees. And UCLA apparently hadn’t checked on him.
Oh, my Lord.
And after about a year and a half, the whole thing fell apart rather suddenly. But in the meantime, he had gotten an awful lot of free service from UCLA. The personal notes of a lot of organizations. The Gerber-Boyfrank correspondence. Other correspondence of mine. Science-fiction things. And we’re having arguments now, because I have found, since Pat [Allen] tended to take charge of everything there, I have found some of my papers in the garbage can. I’m not one who ordinarily goes through garbage cans, but you pass by an open one, and I see one of my letters on top, I get upset. So I’ve been taking some of my personal things home, and we’re still arguing about that. I wrote a thing in my Tangents column in ONE in the late ’50s, asking if any of our subscribers had any copies of the German publications from between WWI and WWII. And a Dr. Weal, whom I later met, but didn’t know at the time I met him that he had been on the staff both of the Hirschfeld Institute and of Der Eigene [pub. 1896–1932, Berlin] sent a hard-bound copy of Der Eigene, about 220 pages, with colored illustrations hand-tinted, and tipped in tissue-paper cover over them. [T]hose were among the things that Don Slater swiped later.
I borrowed it back from him, leaving a $100 deposit. And photocopied it. It cost me $21 to photocopy it, because of the tissue paper and so on. And a week later, I was living in—the Archives was in this apartment at that time. And I moved out, moved back, and so on. And a week later, in a yard sale right around the corner, I found another copy of that.
I didn’t know for sure if it was another copy, or if someone had swiped Don’s copy.
And I do not have a poker face. At least, not a very good poker face. And I’m sure I looked like I had found the Queen’s jewels and was ready to grab. If I hadn’t looked like that, I probably would have gotten it for a lot less than the $7 I paid. But I paid $21 for the photocopy. So the Archives has the photocopy now, and I have the original, and they’re not happy about that. But fuck ’em.
That’s right. That’s right. First things first.
Also on that. The last month before I finished moving out of here, this roof, this ceiling leaked heavily in 21 different places.
What year are we talking about now?
That was ’79, early ’80. When I was in the process of moving over to Hudson. And one morning I got up, and there was a solid stream of water about that thick coming down in front of that volume. I jumped up, grabbed it and slung it across the room. I mean, if I had tried pulling it out carefully, it would have been soaked. In doing that, I weakened the binding a little bit. But it’s acid-free paper, from the days before they started using the cheap paper. And the paper’s in perfect condition. The binding is a little messed up. [Laughs]
You remarked to NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association] at its November 1986 conference that half of gay history is pedophile history. Can you elaborate on that a little bit, and…
Well, almost all of the ancient Greeks and Romans—not all, that gets over-exaggerated—Harmodius and Aristogeiton were both adults. And people get into great arguments as to which one was the younger, as if one had to be younger, but there wasn’t much difference in their age. Agathon was flirting constantly with Socrates, trying to get him, in Socrates’ toga, or whatever. Roman term, sorry.
What the hell did the Greeks call it?
I wasn’t there. Couldn’t tell you.
I need to look that up, because I run up against that every once in a while. [Ed.: He may be referring to the cloak-like garment, chlamys, or the tunic, chiton.] [Walt] Whitman liked older men, but also liked boys. Florence Nightingale liked young girls as well; so did Sappho. [Oscar] Wilde; most of the Germans and English, […] for a long time, pedophile was the identity.
So that was the tradition.
And there were individuals who had affairs with persons their own age. But their own age, sometimes, in the sense that both were adult. One is 22, and the other is 65.
Right. Like Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, for example. Except Bachardy was probably a little younger.
In the early movement, my recollection—and I’ve talked to Dorr [Legg] about this too, and I think Don Slater would also agree—is that we did not make a distinction there. We knew that having sex with boys, or having love affairs with boys, and there is the assumption, of course, that every boy-lover immediately wants to fuck a three-year-old. Well, I don’t think that happens very often. And rape, I think, is much more common among hetero males than it is among boy-lovers. Enormously more common. I have known boy-lovers who are not considerate. And who are not cautious. But most of them are damned considerate and damned cautious. And many of them, like [Manuel] Boyfrank, are—many of the older ones built their pride on the idea that they steered their boys in such a direction that the boys did not grow up homosexual. Now that is, I feel, a self-negating thing. But they didn’t feel that way about it.
Was it along the lines of an argument that they would get it out of their systems?
Boyfrank and the one who wrote a couple of articles for ONE, whose son designed the Messina Bridge, who built the Messina Bridge joining Italy to Sicily—a top L.A. architect, can’t think of his name at the moment—they both felt that the married male is generally incapable of providing the full kind of love and guidance that a boy needs. [Ed.: The bridge has a long history of proposals, but has yet to be built; see Wikipedia.]
Rarely they can. And I’ve seen Boyfrank, in a small town in central California—Carmel, which is a kind of special small town, go up to strangers, men on the street! And offer to babysit their sons. And to talk about this idea, that the average man doesn’t have time to… [Ed.: This discussion does not continue on the next tape.]
[End of Tape 5, Side 1]
[Tape 5, Side 2]
[Ed.: This tape appears not to have captured a significant portion of Kepner’s discussion of diversity]
And one woman screamed, “You haven’t got anybody speaking for the handicapped Latina Puerto Ricans.”
Well, no, we didn’t have. [Laughs] But we had had three handicapped speakers already. [Laughs] One of whom was lesbian. [A]nd he just went on and on and on and on. And I made the point that it took our movement a long time realizing that our diversity was more than a handicap. What we have to focus on for the next ten or twelve years is finding an increasing number of ways to make our diversity positive. […] I expected it to be one of those daring things that would get some boos. Because a year earlier, it would have been booed. And it got applause. But I think the speakers who had spoken before had certainly illustrated the diversity. And not the positive aspects of the diversity. So maybe the applause was a slam at some of the speakers.
Does it disturb you that the femmes and the leather men and the TVs and all that group of people have been effectively disenfranchised by the movement today? You know, that the image has been, you know, we want to present “Joe Clone,” you know, as “this is representative of the movement,” and all these other people…
I don’t think that we’re doing that. I think that a lot of people in the movement want to do that. And several organizations attempt to do that. Certainly in spite of acknowledging that drag queens were okay. [Bruce] Bower certainly wants to do, says he wants to do that. [H]alf of me wishes that some of the far-out ones—bad term—would recognize proper times and places for some of their costumes. There were several contingents in the last March on Washington [25 Apr 1993], that were very effective, of large numbers of ex- and present servicemen and women in uniform. Some of whom had a hell of a time getting back into uniform, which they hadn’t worn for a while. [Laughs] Gee, I used to have a 27-inch waist. [Laughs] I could just about, almost double that now! [My colostomy] operation didn’t help, because it really knocked the shit out of the muscles, severed them. But—there was sag already, but not like this. Anyhow, suddenly seeing an occasional—and they were only occasional, but they were very visible—6’7″ drag queen.
In uniform, but with the added hairdo and bonnet and so on, and high heels. […] Were we talking, or was I talking last night, about Barney Frank and what’s feasible politically?
We touched on that a little bit at dinner tonight.
I don’t think it’s feasible politically for us to suggest that drag queens should be in the service in drag. Although God knows, This Is The Army [Michael Curtiz, dir. (1943)] had every drag queen during WWII performing all over the world. But when they were in military formation, they were not in drag. And, again, there’s a sort of time and place. The extreme leather outfits, the extreme sexual displays, are an embarrassment. Now, they’re an embarrassment to me. They’re an embarrassment to a lot of other gays. But I don’t have a right to say that because I’m embarrassed, that they should suppress it. I wish they would. I wish, in the March on Washington, we looked like—we did look like a cross-section of America, except that those who are prejudiced saw only the extreme ones. And the extreme ones—were you at the March?
The extreme ones were less than one-tenth of one percent of those who were marching.
Right. But depending on what you’re looking for, if that’s what you’re looking for…
[Laughs] But that’s what shows up!
…it’s going to be very easy to find it.
And every once in a while, there was a contingent of them. I almost wish that Harry Hay and his Radical Faeries would simply stay home at those affairs. And I love Harry. Now, again, it gets back to what is our purpose? In the movement as a whole, or in the March? Are we marching for P.R.? Yes. Are we marching for freedom? Yes, that too. And the two aren’t always identical. So that in the first parade here, Jefferson Fuck Poland, who is the founder of the Sexual Freedom League came down and was going to take his clothes off.
1970. I walked along with him most of the way and said, “Look. I hope you will not do this. Please don’t do it. If you take your clothes off, the police are here, ready to bust heads. And it probably won’t be your head that gets busted. You’ll get a whole bunch of other innocent people beaten up or arrested by your assertion. If you do it, I will do all I can to defend your right, but please don’t do it!” And I feel the same way, really, in the public parades. I wish we could have—well, in Australia, now, [t]here’s a term they use, “grunge” or “filth,” or one of those terms like that. They have their enclosed ball.
Where everything goes. And that’s the big affair.
And then there’s a public parade. [Ed.: Since 1982, the Sleaze Ball in October is a fundraiser for the non-profit that runs Sydney Mardi Gras parade and other events.] I don’t know if there are different standards for the public parade—the Australians get pretty radical. More so than the Americans. [Laughs] But I wish, when we’re putting our public face forward, that we’d lean a little more toward P.R., and—how far should personal freedom go? Should we have a truck with people having sex on the parades? I would say no. [Laughs]
It becomes such a tricky issue when my freedom impinges on your rights. You know? And I think, oftentimes, that’s the piece that those folks miss.
That’s the element. You see, as a gay person, I’m going to say—and I think a majority of gays now say—it isn’t a choice. I am that way. But I still tend to think—and that’s my feeling—that with the leather crowd, with the drag queens (certainly with the Radical Faeries), and with the boy-lovers, it’s more of a choice. Well, with the boy-lovers, it’s not a choice. With drag queens, it’s not really a choice!
Well, I think the choice, in effect, is do you express who you are? Or do you deny? Or sublimate it some other way.
Now. [Bruce] Bower makes the point that a lot of guys who wear ordinary business clothes during the week, he supposes, have to dress in the most outrageous costumes when they get out there in public. And for those, I would say—and John O’Brien says this too—that that is a mistake. It hurts the movement. But if they are drag queens, if that’s their identity, then we must support their right to be out there! And Radical Faerie is an adopted identity. That’s a converting movement. Now, that’s what I say. Harry would say that when—and he has said, in a thing that I’ve recorded into one of my manuscripts on gay spirit—that when you come to your first Faerie Circle, we do not require you to do anything. We open to you to be yourself, and hope that for many of you, you will discover that wonderful faerie hidden inside that awful frog [Laughs] where it’s lived all its life. And that you will be able to release that faerie. So for them, they would say that the faerie isn’t an adopted style, it isn’t a converted thing, it’s a discovery of the true self under the hetero pretense. [A]t one conference, I showed up in a suit and tie. And Harry made a loud accusation that I was pretending to be straight.
Hetero-imitating. And, well, yes, in a sense I was. I had been to several of those places where everybody else was dressed up, and I was not, and couldn’t afford it. And that was one of those occasions when I had a new suit, and I was very happy about it, and that was the first greeting I got with it. [Laughs] And I was fuming at him for weeks afterward, but never managed—well, I think—almost a year later, I got it half out. But I got it out after it had cooled. And he brushed it off. “Meaningless little… You just don’t recognize you’re a faerie, Jimmy.” Well, when I was in second grade, the only musical appreciation course I ever had, the teacher played on an old winder-grinder Victrola, the Appassionata [Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23], the “Flight of the Bumblebee” [from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan], and a song, “I saw last night a faerie dancer, and when I asked her her name, she wouldn’t stop to give an answer, but kept on dancing just the same. And she was dancing on the water, I said I’ve guessed who you are. You’re one of twilight’s faerie dancers who must have fallen from a star.” Well, at home, when I was alone, for a few weeks after, any time I could strip down to a big towel, I was that faerie dancer. It’s the only time I’ve ever been a faerie. Now Harry would assume by that that I really am a faerie.
God. Did you ever tell Harry that?
Oh, yes. He appreciated it. But he still assumes that that is my real identity, and I don’t feel that it is.
Just as most of the queens assumed, when I came out during that first three months, that I really was a woman soul in a man’s body, and should call them “sister” and “mother” and so on, and we’re all she’s. And that wasn’t me. I’m a male. I’m not much of a male…
…I’ll say that very quickly.
But I am a male! And that’s not said to put women down, it’s not said to say that I’m better than women.
I would be more inclined to agree with Ashley Montagu that women are the superior sex. [Ed.: Montagu, The Natural Superiority of Women (1953).]
From everything I’ve heard from you or read about you, you’re as much of a feminist as I am. You and I are both very much feminist men. And there’s nothing to apologize for. I mean, I’ve identified as a feminist man before I identified as being gay!
Now, one of the things that I felt—well, those terms weren’t being used back when I… But I had heard the term “sissy,” and I knew I fell into that category. I didn’t exactly like the name.
Right. But we knew.
There were other terms that I had heard that I didn’t like. The first definition I heard of homosexual I didn’t like either.
Yes. I read that.
It struck a chord.
When they said they didn’t know any of those people, I realized they had to be wrong on the details. And it was three or four years later before I decided—really, I’m almost sure there were three of us at that table that night. [Ed.: Kepner refers to an incident that he recounted in Marcus, Making History(1992), p. 44, following a triple date cut short, whereupon the three young men discussed homosexuals and their practices.] [Laughs] And when I went home and looked it up in the dictionary—Harry got furious at that, because he said the dictionary didn’t mention it then. Harry still assumes there is a dictionary.
He had looked it up and couldn’t find it. Well, in the dictionary I had, it was one of these like the New College English Dictionary, or the Funk & Wagnalls New College [Standard Dictionary]… And the word was defined, and it was defined matter-of-factly. Persons who are attracted sexually to persons of the same gender. Well, wonderful! That meant I wasn’t the only one in the world!
It didn’t have your picture on there or anything.
Of course, the dictionary also defined griffins, and I don’t know how many of those there are in the world. [Laughs]
And unicorns, and…
On Evelyn Hooker
In the IGLA Bulletin that I have, there was a note about a film about Dr. Evelyn Hooker called Changing Minds [Ed.: Changing Our Minds, Richard Schmiechen, dir. (1992)]. Did that film ever get released?
It’s never gone into general release. There was a showing at Santa Monica Airport, with Dr. Hooker. I ended up sitting right in front of her. She was in a wheelchair. And in very bad health now. I should call her every once in a while, but probably too many people do. And then it showed once at the film festival.
Here. And it may have shown at some others, but I don’t think, I don’t think it’s gone into… It has in it, and I tried to say this gently to the filmmakers, and they got very upset—it makes the statement that Dr. Hooker’s work produced the outpouring of gay militants in the early ’70s. It did not. [Ed.: Kepner refers to a passage in which the narrator notes the publication by ONE magazine of a report by Hooker in 1970. “It fueled an increasingly activist gay community.” Earlier in the film, over images of mid-1960s picketing, beginning with the famous photograph of Barbara Gittings by Kay Tobin Lahusen, the narrator states, “In the early ‘60s, using Evelyn’s study as ammunition, gay men and lesbians began to speak out.”] Most of the people in the homophile movement, Mattachine, ONE, and the Daughters of Bilitis, knew and admired her, loved her very… just a wonderful, warm person. Even if she was wrong on some theoretical points. But the young radicals who came in after Stonewall—they didn’t give a damn for any researchers. This was just at the point [when] large numbers of researchers were coming around to study us. And when they came to the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] groups, they got generally told to go fuck themselves! And Don Slater was already beginning to tell them that. He told Dr. Hooker that once. Not that word. On KPFK.
I want to see if you have some addresses for this list of folks, to see if maybe you’ve got them handy so that I can start some correspondence with them. Do you have like a file that would have your addresses and such? Let’s see if we can dig them up? Stop tape.
On Pursuit and Symposium
Last question, I figured I’d save the best for last. Talk to me about Pursuit and Symposium.
When Don Slater ripped off ONE, I was pretty sure that since most of the editorial board had walked out with Don, and one of the remaining creative people came to me and asked if I wanted to start a magazine if he put up some money for it, I was pretty sure that Dorr [Legg] would put out a pretty dull magazine. That, I guess, is an understatement.
ONE had a couple of good issues after the break, but most of them were pretty awful. And then it finally ended up with mimeographed reprints. Have you seen those?
They ran a year and a half more of mimeographed reprints of earlier issues, things from earlier issues. And […] I was sure that Don would do a better job, but I thought initially that he would end up in jail. I was mistaken on that. Don can be awfully difficult. But in court, he was sweetness unbelievable. He handled the judges so beautifully. Dorr marched his loyalists in like a martinet. Wouldn’t allow any of them to speak to anybody else. A couple of us who were not committed to one side or the other, we weren’t allowed to speak to any of the ONE loyalists. There were some that I knew quite well. And Dorr kept sassing the judge. “Your Honor, how dare you treat this as if this is a case between two equals. This is a case of a bank robber and a banker!” Well, the judge said, “I’m sorry. That’s what we’re here to determine.” And Dorr got very difficult with the judge a few times—he could get very haughty. So can Don, ordinarily, but Don was utterly diplomatic. “Your Honor, we want nothing more than to get back together peacefully, to work together on what we’ve worked for these years. It just became impossible. And with legal advice, this was the only recourse we felt we had!” And Don claimed that there had been several illegal elections. Anyhow, I thought his arguments were full of shit, initially. I was kind of mistaken. And I thought he would behave himself worse than Dorr. But Don had a great facility in court, and handling kids on the street who got into trouble, even so, he could wrap the judge around his fingers. And he knows the law quite well. So I thought the field was wide open. Mattachine Review had folded, I didn’t see anything creative coming out of ONE. I felt that there was a need to go further. The day before the heist, I had showed up at ONE’s office. And I generally got along somewhat better with Dorr. I have more intellectual respect for Dorr. Don is more likeable. Dorr is a cold fish. But I have no respect for Don. Like handling mercury.
And Don kept hanging around the desk while I was talking to Dorr. And insisted he wanted to talk to me. So he got me over to the drugstore across the street that burned out during the riots last year, and started, you know—“Things are moving. ONE is not moving. ONE is in the same position it was when we started it 12 years ago. And the world is moving, the world is changing! We’re still coming up with the same stuff, and it’s out of date!” Well, I thought that was awfully surprising, coming from Don, who hardly notices change in the world. Right then, he was noticing. But I didn’t give the answers he was expecting. He was apparently trying to solicit me in on his deal. But I didn’t give the right answers. And I had found both of them difficult to deal with. We had been a troika for a while, and I had figured for a while, like Khruschev’s figure, three horses pulling in different directions. No matter what cord you’re on, you’ve got to win two out of three. And you can live with that. When Don got mad at me and voted against everything that I favored, so I was in a minority of one, except in those cases when I agreed with Dorr. And Dorr and I weren’t getting along too well right then, either. So I figured there was an open field.
I hadn’t really noticed Drummer [pub. 1976–1997]. And actually, Drummer was developing interestingly. It was more militant, it was more willing to recognize that sex was part of this. And you’d hardly get that impression from ONE and the Mattachine Review. But for very good reasons. We still had to go all the way to the Supreme Court with one of our tamest issues! It was one in which the law—the lawyer had explained why we had to be so tame. And that irritated them. And earlier, we had had an article which implied that [J. Edgar] Hoover was probably sleeping with [Clyde] Tolson. And there was a note from Hoover, which we got in the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] files. [Ed.: See my article on this subject, “Vile Vault: The FBI Gets Its Man (or Woman)”] So I thought the field was wide open. And if I could come in right at this time, that even with only enough to print one or two issues, I could get a clear sail. I was astonished when I saw how good Don’s issues were. Have you looked at them?
OK. They’re up there in the Tangents box. But the first five or six are called ONE. They had a distinctly different kind of cover, and the contents were completely different from what ONE had been at its best. And the issues of ONE at the same period are distinctly poorer than ONE was at its worst.
Oh, I see. Yeah.
[T]he contrast is just incredible. Dorr had said for years, two of his favorite phrases, “Writers are a dime a dozen.” And, “As long as you get the magazine out, it doesn’t matter what it says […]—if you reprint the telephone book!” Well, with that attitude, it was obvious that when he was in full charge of the magazine, it wasn’t going to be all that good. He took articles which were translated by someone from one of the European magazines from the dictionary. And I used to think that there were natural equivalents to every word, and if you looked a word up in a dictionary, you could come out with something that would make good English. It just doesn’t work that way! And they were unbearable, unreadable, articles. Or stupid articles. That if you had [unintelligible], if there actually was good material here, that the English is so bad. So I also knew, from the experience in ONE, that you needed editorial skills, circulation, advertising, business management, and artistic direction. I could provide one of those.
And I could do something with the others, but not much. And not much all at the same time. So I think I put out a pretty good first issue. A weaker second issue, but there was some good material in it. But we had to cut way back on the cost. But the circulation didn’t much get done. We got a little advertising, but a piddling little bit. And…
Harry Hay helped you with that to some degree, didn’t he?
At the start, he and Johnny [Burnside] were on the editorial board. My ex-roommate, roommate at the time, was talking about this. He said Harry’s the only one he’s ever seen levitate above a swimming pool in the fetal position. Mack was the best one who quit ONE’s board and came to me offering to put up a couple of thousand. Now, what I didn’t know was that from the time I had left ONE, the printing costs had more than doubled. And I had figured that the printing costs for a magazine like ONE was $500. For $750, we could print something that looked decidedly better.
And suddenly you needed a thousand to keep up.
What I got was, it cost $2,000 for 6,000 copies of the first issue [Mar/Apr 1966]. And we never got half of them from the printer.
That was a long story. Complicated. So Mack put up $2,000. I […] applied for a loan on my house. I was told that the loan was approved, and I could pick up the money Monday. And I started spending money out of the $2,000, for advertising, for office supplies, for a whole bunch of other things. And then they fucked me over on the loan. And it was months later before I was able to pay the printer. And I had promised to pay in advance. Because the printer, that had done a good job—ONE had been behind for years. And I wanted to get off on a good start with them. And so when I finally got the loan, all of a sudden the loan company owned my house for just enough to pay for the printing of one issue.
Wow. [Pause] Do you have copies available?
Yeah. Have you seen it?
Not yet. No. And I’d love to.
It was better looking, I think, than the other magazines that had been out up to that time. Were you…
No, no, no. Just shaking my wrist ’cause I’m tired.
But it, it didn’t get off the ground. It got a good response. Bob Mizer, in Physique Pictorial [pub. 1958–1990], gave us a nice plug. A number of people sent a dollar for one copy. And that barely paid the postage and the mailing costs. And the people who ordered for Physique Pictorial did not subscribe. It wasn’t quite the kind of magazine they were hoping for. [Laughs] So I think I have some extra copies still.
Did you enjoy the experience—not the financial part of it, or any of the difficulties that you went through, but did you enjoy the experience of having…?
Oh, it was fun! It was really fun. Managed to squeeze out the two issues, and one issue of Bag [Bag One, pub. Jul 1966], which was an apology for in between, for the second issue’s [Jun 1967] tardiness.
End of tape.
[End of interview]
Paul Cain’s chapter on Jim Kepner 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.
David Hughes is grateful to Paul Cain for the opportunity to review and edit this interview.
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