Ritual and Robert Patrick at Caffe Cino
To the Editor:
I read with interest your recent article titled “Robert Patrick at the Caffe Cino” (Sept.-Oct. 2023). It brought back memories of the weekend in June of 1980 when I had the pleasure of meeting him. I was the founder and first artistic director of the Triangle Theater Company, Boston’s first gay theater, and our first production was an evening of three one-act plays, one of which was Patrick’s The Fog.
While I was negotiating the rights to the play, he offered to come up for the opening, as he was going to be out in the Midwest somewhere getting an award from the
International Thespian Society (the honors organization for high school theater). Apparently, he cranked out so many one-act plays that a lot of them were done at high school state theater contests. So, he negotiated with them to fly him to the conference, and then afterwards to fly him to Boston. My job was to find him a hotel and get a train ticket back to New York.
Fortunately, one of my board members was good friends with the guy who ran the flower shop in the Park Plaza Hotel, who in turn was friends with the guys at the front desk. As luck would have it, Cardinal Medeiros had a group of people staying at the Plaza that same weekend, so our friends at the front desk just billed an extra suite to the Cardinal’s tab. It was admittedly not a huge suite, but a nice large room on the second or third floor—large enough for a cast party, and it was free, courtesy of the Cardinal.
The afternoon before the show, he came over to the theater to be interviewed by Michael Bronski for The Boston Phoenix. After Michael left, Robert told me that he had a tradition (superstition?) of always masturbating on the stage before a show, to bless the theater, as it were, by spewing his offering across the stage. He asked if I wanted to join him. I politely declined, but sent him upstairs to make his offering. (After reading about his time at the Caffe Cino I can see how this “tradition” may have started.)
We had a successful run that weekend, and Triangle went on producing gay theater for a total of eighteen seasons (although on many different stages). So, who knows, maybe his offering to the theater that June afternoon worked. I would like to think it did.
David Hough, Boston, MA
To the Editor:
The essay “Robert Patrick at the Caffe Cino” contains an error in the description of Patrick’s comic play about God raping the Virgin Mary. The author of the essay comments that the bawdy dialogue is “in the service of undercutting pious belief in the Immaculate Conception.”
The Immaculate Conception is a 19th—century Catholic doctrine that the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) was conceived by her mother, Anne, without Original Sin, so that she could give birth to Jesus. The BVM’s conception of Jesus is called the Virgin Birth. Protestants and other Christian denominations believe in the Virgin Birth, but not in the Immaculate Conception, which is accepted by Catholic denominations. Downplaying the Catholic adoration of the BVM was an important aspect of the Protestant Reformation. Confusion of the terms is a common misconception (pun intended).
Michael Sirmons, Austin, TX
To the Editor:
A recent “BTW” item [Sept.-Oct. 2023 issue] reported that billboards have appeared in Florida and Texas sponsored by Massachusetts with the slogan “Massachusetts for us all,” encouraging red state residents to consider moving to a more welcoming state in New England. The item mentioned that states like Georgia and Arizona might be better places for former red state gays to make an impact.
In 2011, after living in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, my husband and I began our retirement in ultra-gay Wilton Manors, Florida. We enjoyed living in the liberal and LGBT-welcoming Ft. Lauderdale area, but by 2020 we found ourselves donating to U.S. Senate and other candidates in Georgia and concluded that Florida was unlikely to become a blue, or even a purple, state anytime soon. We moved to Savannah, Georgia. After we left Florida, the increasingly rabid Governor DeSantis redoubled his abuse of Florida’s large LGBT population in his quest for higher office.
Georgia is not yet a gay utopia, but we have some national sway as Georgia voters and our liberal, quirky, and youthful Savannah community gives us hope for the future. Some of our Florida gay friends have also begun heading to friendlier locales. Voting with one’s feet sometimes sends the proper message to tyrants. We’re glad The G&LR continues to connect us to the larger national LGBT community.
Dan Layman & Eric Miller, Savannah, GA
Keeping up with the CPUSA
To the Editor,
Regarding your review of Bettina Aptheker’s Communists in Closets in the May-June 2023 issue, Vernon Rosario does a fair and honorable job in reviewing it. However, a few errors crept into his review:
The caption on the author photo states that Aptheker “is a noteworthy cpusa activist in her own right.” “Was” is the correct tense of the verb here. She has not been a Party activist for many decades. [Please note that captions are written by the editor.]
Some of Rosario’s statements about Elizabeth—Betty (not “Betsy”)—Millard are questionable. And I write, by the way, as an intimate friend of hers from the day I met her in 1957 until she died in 2010. He writes: “She continued a lifelong career in Communist-associated publications and internationalist women’s groups.” If Betty joined the cpusa in 1940 and left it in the mid-50s following the Khrushchev revelations about Stalin, that adds up to maybe sixteen or seventeen years of Party activism. She did not publish in Party organs after that, nor was she committed to any “internationalist women’s group” after that point. A period of under two decades is hardly “lifelong,” especially if you live to 98!
Betty’s 1948 pamphlet was titled “Woman Against Myth,” not “Women Against Myth.”
As for the claim that, if anything, the cpusa became “more homophobic [e]ven as the USSR was collapsing,” Rosario notes that at the Party’s 1991 National Convention, “it also debated and lifted its six-decade ban on homosexual membership.” That sounds more like a sign of progress than of deeper entrenchment. I don’t say this to defend the cpusa’s policy before, during, and for a long time after those years, but logically his statement doesn’t make sense. Indeed, from the outside I was among the Party’s most persistent critics on this score.
The cpusa is fully on board now with LGBT struggles, and publishes regularly on this topic, both on its own website and in the pages of its flagship daily online publication People’s World. Sadly, in some circles with a long memory, the odor of its past history still hovers over it. I for one have moved on and accepted its advances as sincere and thoroughgoing.
Eric Gordon, Los Angeles
An Inconvenient Truth about Leyendecker
To the Editor:
Two recent articles—David Masello’s “The Eye of the Beholder” (May-June 2023 issue) and Ignacio Darnaude’s “Leyendecker the Sly” (Sept.-Oct. 2023), discuss the life and career of J. C. Leyendecker (1874–1951), the influential and prolific American illustrator who was recently the subject of an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. While the articles—and presumably the exhibition as well (I haven’t had the good fortune of seeing it yet)—appropriately analyze and document Leyendecker’s sexual orientation as a motivator for his presentation of American masculinity in the decades before World War II, both leave out any mention of the wide range of Leyendecker’s subjects in his art other than those of young men.
Darnaude mentions that Leyendecker painted 322 Saturday Evening Post covers. What he didn’t mention, even in passing, was that a substantial portion of those covers were populated with male adolescents or pre-adolescents in situations typical of their age groups and of the period in which they were depicted. For example, his Post covers for August 19, 1911, and May 22, 1915, depict unabashed skinny-dipping—with rosy cheeks at both extremities! A Web image search with the terms “Leyendecker” and “New Year’s” yields an almost annual parade of infants and toddlers from before 1910 to the late 1930s, many of them tastefully unclothed, typical—even expected—in an era whose standards were far different from those of today. His final Post cover, from January 2, 1943, has a helmeted but otherwise naked toddler blasting apart a swastika with a bayoneted gun strategically—symbolically?—placed across his nether bits.
This is not to suggest or imply that Leyendecker had any unhealthy interest in children. It suggests that Leyendecker had at least an appreciation, if not a fondness, for boys and boyhood. His images were very much in tune with the times. In short, mothers loved them. The reason this is important (IMHO) is the same as the apparent reason it wasn’t mentioned in the Leyendecker articles: it isn’t politically correct these days to focus on a gay man’s interest in boys. However innocent—or even helpful—an interest in boys and boyhood might be, somewhere around 1980, gay men agreed to the Faustian proposition that they would disavow any attraction to anyone “underage.” (“Control feminists” developed this notion further to encompass all men and most child-adult [male]interactions except those in an immediate family. Does the term “stranger danger” ring a bell? As an “equality feminist” myself, I work daily to counteract this noxious trend.)
There is nothing wrong with a discussion of how an artist’s sexuality may have guided his art, and how that art may have influenced society. Anyone with the chutzpah to depict his lover’s face and body, however stunning, as J.C. Leyendecker did in ads, story illustrations, and magazine covers for over forty years deserves to be studied, if not admired. This proposition, however, like any investigation of the past must not be emasculated by revisionist history. It must consider the whole picture.
Gerald Jones, Ph.D., Sun City, CA
Know Your Middle English
To the Editor:
In his review of a new book on medievalism in the Sept.-Oct. 2023 issue, Vernon Rosario claims that in “The Miller’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales, “Absalom sodomizes [Nicholas] with a hot poker.” But this is not what Chaucer actually says in the poem. Absalom simply smacks Nicholas’ bare butt with the poker: “And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot” (“And he smacked Nicholas in the middle of the ass”), meaning across the butt, not in it. To “smack” is not the same as to “insert.”
George Klawitter, Notre Dame, IN