The Many Lives of Malcolm Boyd

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FIFTY YEARS AGO, the Freedom Riders made history. It was an ugly time, much more divided and dangerous even than our own. Jim Crow ruled in the American South. Between May and December, 1961, over 400 activists took buses to destinations throughout that region and sat at lunch counters, in waiting rooms, and next to white passengers in an attempt to change the law. One rider was an Episcopal priest in his late thirties: a sexually confused, former Hollywood executive named Malcolm Boyd who had worked intimately with Mary Pickford and counted Charlie Chaplin’s son as one of his close friends.

“In Hollywood,” he told me in an interview, “I wouldn’t say I was simply ‘closeted.’ I was Mary Pickford’s business partner. I was working hard. I was ambitious. I wasn’t going to risk anything.” Discontented with the entertainment industry, Boyd entered seminary in Berkeley in 1954. He also spent time in Europe during his training. Those were the years when he discovered his sexuality.

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