Monthly Archives: November 2013

Do You Know Who Patsy Kelly Was?

Patsy Kelly Ruth Gordon Rosemary Baby

Patsy Kelly and Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby

For a long time most Hollywood actors (and people for that matter) were not out.  To openly proclaim oneself to be a gay man or a Lesbian was to commit professional suicide and it could also put your life in jeopardy.  However, there was one…

During the thirties and forties Patsy Kelly was a successful comedienne in Hollywood movies; she played goofy maids and salty side kicks.   She also was one of the very rare almost out Lesbians of her time.

Doing the research for my novel required a lot of reading about “gay” Hollywood.  That’s how I stumbled upon Patsy Kelly.  In the thirties and forties she didn’t actually announce that she was a Lesbian, but she didn’t hide it, either.  She went from being the critics darling between 1933 and 1943 to pretty much forgotten from 1943 to 1960 when she made no movies. Syndicated columnist, Lee Graham summed it up by saying that she went out with “mannish women, wore slacks in public, cursed and swore and told off-color jokes at lesbic bars (I love this word ‘lesbic’) and clubs.”  She was considered a scandal waiting to happen so the jobs pretty much dried up. (McClennan, 2000).

Tallulah Bankhead came to her rescue in the fifties by hiring her for small parts in  plays she was doing.  Later Patsy became “Tallu’s”  paid personal companion, which sometimes required  her to “provide services” for her generous employer and friend.  After 1960 Patsy started to get hired for secondary roles.  The most famous of her later films was Rosemary’s Baby in which she played a witch and friend to the weird neighbor across the hall played by Ruth Gordon.  (Ruth Gordon is loved for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude and she is  one of my absolute favorites. I actually met her backstage on the day they were closing her Broadway show, Dreyfus.  A memorable moment for a wide-eyed kid who’d just arrived in the City)

Patsy was the only actress out of ten who admitted to Boze Hadleigh in 1979, without angst, that she was a “dyke.” (Hadleigh, 1994)

References: Hadleigh, B., (1994).  Hollywood Lesbians. New York: Barricade Books, Inc.

McClennan, D. (2000). The Girls. New York:  St. Martin’s Press.

From the 1938 movie “There Goes My Heart”: Patsy Kelly sings the praises of a device called “Vibrato”–“for that morning-after feeling.” Was it intended innocently, or were the filmmakers trying to slip something past the censors? You be the judge…

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US Armed Services and Purple Discharges for Homosexuals

imgres-2World War II was the first war in which the Armed Services established rules against allowing homosexuals to serve.  However, the kinds of questions psychiatrists devised to detect homosexuals were pretty silly.  They would ask a male inductee things like, “Do you like girls?” and this man could answer quite honestly “yes,”  because he didn’t know what the shrink was really getting at.  One woman was asked, “Why  haven’t you slept with a man?” She answered, “Because I was brought up to believe that girls didn’t do that until they were married.”  That was the prevailing belief of the forties so the young woman wasn’t saying anything unusual.  As a result, hundreds of homosexuals, male and female, courageously served in World War II. In some units their sexual orientation was quite open without anyone bothering about it.  However, toward the end of the war things started to change.  As one of the male characters in my novel says, “You didn’t have to do anything homosexual to get thrown out for being homosexual.  You didn’t have to do something like sodomy for them to go after you.  That way they could go after the women too.  Showing any “signs” of homosexuality was enough for them to harass you.”

If someone saw one of those “signs” the soldier was arrested and taken to a hospital, the ward for the mentally ill. (Sometimes soldiers were locked up in makeshift  holding cells–Queer Stockades–until they were sent back to the States.) In the hospital they were put under observation.  During this time period soldiers were pumped  to name the names of other homosexuals. When they were finally released they were given cheap clothing from a discount store and the blue discharge.

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This blue discharge announced to the world that the army considered you undesirable.  These discharges were given without benefit of any kind of hearing or trial.  It wasn’t exactly a dishonorable discharge.  You hadn’t done anything to warrant that, but it  meant that you could not qualify for any of the benefits that went with the best GI Bill the country had ever passed.  While other veterans were remaking their lives with free college educations, VA home mortgages and other government loans, those with blue discharges had trouble even getting a job. (Berube, 1990)

Reference:  Berube, A, (1990). Coming out under fire: The history of gay mean and women in World War II, Chapel Hill, NC:  University of North Carolina Press.

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Little Known Facts About The Stage Door Canteen

Jane Cowl

Jane Cowl

In the second half of my novel,  JULIANA, World War 2 breaks out.  Alice’s theatrical career isn’t going so hot so in a burst of patriotic fervor she  volunteers at the Stage Door Canteen. Volunteering also had a little something to do with being so close to Gertrude Lawrence, Broadway star that Alice thought she’d perish.

Little known facts about the Stage Door Canteen.

When most people think of the Stage Door Canteen they think of “stars” entertaining the troops,  but that was a movie, made mostly in Hollywood.  The real Canteen was run by hardworking mostly unknown actors, mostly female, who volunteered many hours of their time.

They were trained in first aid and for awhile there was a small hospital connected to the Canteen where soldiers could come and get care for their wounds.  These young women were trained in how to talk to soldiers coming back from the war who may now be confined to wheelchairs.  They were taught not to use the word “cripple” and not to help too much (Thomforde, 2006)

Other Fascinating Facts

At a time when the Armed Services was segregated, the Stage Door Canteen was integrated.  All men of any race, ethnicity or national origin could come into the Canteen to relax, dance, and talk to the girls.

Volunteer hostesses, both white and black, were required to dance with men who were not of their race.  If they could not do this they were not permitted to be Canteen hostesses (Thomforde, 2006)

Integration did not go so far as to include both genders.  No women soldiers were allowed in the Canteen (Goldstein 2010).

Jane Cowl, who was considered a fine Broadway actress in her day, was the co-chair of the Canteen and put her career mostly on hold while running the Canteen.  She thought it would not be right for her to appear in the Hollywood film about the Stage Door Canteen  and call attention to herself.   Her work was only about the soldiers. Just before taking her position at the Canteen she starred in the hit play,  Old Acquaintance (remember Bette Davis in the film?) Ms. Cowl can be seen with Bette Davis in the film,  Payment on Demand. Selena Royale, the other co-chair, also a fine actress in her own right, did appear in Stage Door Canteen, the film. Around that time she was starring in the radio program,  Dr. Hilda Hope. You can see her in The Fighting Sullivans, the film about the five brothers who are all killed in the war.  Selena Royale plays their mother.

These two women with the support of the American Theater Wing established the integration policy.

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Stars who helped out at the Canteen regularly were Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine, Gertrude Lawrence and Katherine Hepburn.

References:  Goldstein, R. (2010). Helluva Town: The Story of New York City During World War 2, New York: Free Press;

Thomforde, K. W.(2006). The Stage Door Canteen:”Nothing is too good for the boys!” University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/1020 

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