IN HIS LETTER to the editor in the January-February 2010 issue of this magazine, Richard Lottridge asked if anything had been written about the role of Merton L. Bird in the founding of the mid-century gay Los Angeles group known as Knights of the Clock. My interest was piqued, and what follows is a brief overview in which I’ve tried to assemble some (often contradictory) fragments of history.
Enigmatic might be the best word to describe this organization, which was variously called the Knights of the Clock or Clocks. Gay and lesbian historians differ in their reporting of who founded the group, when it was founded, and what its exact name was. The ONE Gay and Lesbian Archives in L.A. maintains that Merton L. Bird, an African-American accountant about whom little is known, was the cofounder, and that it started up around June 1951. The other co-founder was W. Dorr Legg, who used about a dozen pseudonyms throughout his life, and whose name appears in virtually every anthology of gay history. He earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture with a specialty in urban planning, taught at Oregon State University, lived in New York and Florida, and came home to Ann Arbor, Michigan to care for his elderly parents. Legg’s lovers were, for the most part, African-American, and he experienced racial discrimination first hand (though not, according to John D’Emilio, in Detroit’s black community). Some historians hold that Bird and Legg met in Michigan, drove around looking for a comfortable place for interracial gay couples, and landed in L.A. in the late 1940’s. Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons hold that Marvin Edwards, not Bird, went to L.A. with Legg. Timmons interviewed Edwards for their 2006 book, Gay L.A., which includes a very youthful candid photo. Edwards was forced to leave L.A. after a year or so, when his landlady discovered he was gay.